Prather Points | Managing COVID-19 ahead of Thanksgiving break [Photo 1]

Franklin College President Kerry Prather speaks to students at a campus chat in spring 2020.

The Franklin Co-Executive Editor Taylor Wooten catches up with Franklin College President Kerry Prather on March 4 about changes to the way Zoom is used, the process of opening sports events, concerts, and art exhibits to visitors, and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Read on for a lightly edited transcript from their conversation.

Taylor Wooten: So my first question was just that I'm sure you've heard that former President Thomas Minar is going to trial, eventually once they have that date scheduled. So I wanted to know if you had a reaction to that.

President Prather: I don't comment on any of those, so I'll let Deidra answer on behalf of the institution.

TW: I'm just gonna ask a lot of repeats, kind of catching up with different things. So, I wanted to know if there were any updates on the elementary ed accreditation.

PP: We have submitted our proposals to the state and the timeline has always been that the State Department will review those, make a recommendation to the State Board of Education. We should hear in April.

TW: Okay, great. And then I wondered if there was anything happening with the [Johnson Memorial] athletic facility right now that I'm not updated on.

PP: You know, we talked about after the board meeting. Right now, we’re trying to get all of the pieces together so that at the May meeting of the Board, we can get a ‘OK let's move on.’ So some site work, some city permits, that kind of stuff. A little bit of fundraising yet to do. All of which is on schedule.

TW: I know that with the reminder that Zoom is only to be used for COVID-19, some students feel weird about the fact that they might not be able to use it in emergencies. Do you have a response to that?

PP: Well, not surprisingly, what was set up at the beginning was in-person instruction with a virtual option for medical acceptance. And we were pretty liberal with those while we had so many medical exceptions, and even suspected medical exceptions. Now that we've got a better handle on the environment it isn't the space that we want to operate with. So this is not an appropriate alternative for students who are simply inconvenienced by being expected to be in person, in class.

So, we're in our move back to normal. Normal will not include students having the liberty to attend class virtually at their own convenience so this was simply a reiteration of ‘only a medical exception is a reason to attend to class virtually’ and underneath that is probably less appreciated by students than it should be. This hybrid instruction is really a challenge for faculty members, and at its best our students are still getting a fractional experience. So, this is just our way of putting things back together the way they should be.

TW: Okay. And then with Johnson County becoming in the lowest range as far as the State Department of Health's categorization of how bad COVID is getting, I wanted to know if there's any planned rollbacks on the current protocol or maybe something like, I know the idea of students eventually being allowed or a limited number of people being allowed into sports events.

PP: Yeah, so we've already started that process Taylor at the end of the indoor seasons. So we're now down to only men's basketball left, and it looks like all of their games will be on the road, more than likely, but the last few of those. We had an exception for a small number of students within our own bubble, to be able to attend and an exception for the parents of seniors for senior day and senior night games. Now they're moving outdoors. If you go to the athletic website there's a new outdoor spectator policy. And so it is indeed opening up the bubble, a little bit.

So, each participant, each of our students participating will be able to have four guests from off campus, attend. And there's but all of the mitigation continues to be built in, including masks, even though these are outdoor contests. And then there will also be, again, a kind of a calculated number of students. And I think faculty and staff if you go to that, if you go that policy — it pops right up when you go on the athletic site — but I think it’s everybody within the campus bubble, a certain number of those. And the number is computed on the basis of how much space there is in the venue to allow for the necessary space. So, what doesn't go away is the masks and the physical distancing, but we are little by little opening up.

And the other thing I would want you to know is it's not exclusively athletics. So we've now had music, art. I think those are the two that jumped to mind, where there are similar kinds of senior projects displayed, or in the case of music performed. So we've made provisions for them to be able to bring their parents for those events as well. So, little by little, we're kind of getting there.

My email last week was, on the one hand, the last thing I want is for everybody to assume that this is over and then we backslide. But I am very sensitive to how hard this has been on the students, and when the sun comes out, and you can be outdoors, things are automatically safer. The environment is obviously safer so if everybody does this prudently, we're going to get the benefit of not being locked down without the danger of, we all go crazy and then we're kind of right back where we started from. And the other aspect of this is the oldest people on campus are being vaccinated, and from the outset those were the most vulnerable. And that's true of students, grandparents, in some cases parents. So, you know, that was that's been the other end of this is everybody's conscientiousness about not wanting to take an infection home.

TW: That made me curious, not to put an age on you or anything but the age group is getting down low enough that I'm wondering if you're planning on getting your vaccine or if you have?

PP: I've already had my first vaccine. Yes.

TW: Well, I want to say congratulations. I don't know if that's the right word.

PP: So loosely, I'm a little more invincible than I was yesterday. Actually, probably not. It takes seven days I think to take effect. Yeah, so I won't get, I won't get cocky for another week.

TW: Yeah, then you can just go crazy.

I wanted to know if there was anything that the school was thinking of doing to mitigate anything that could happen over spring break. If maybe you guys were considering any more reentry testing. Or, I know at the very beginning, before we were sent home there was talk of reporting where you're going. I know that might be a little outdated because now, COVID is basically everywhere it's not like their big hotspots.

PP: Our plan, Taylor, and we don't have all the details worked out yet, but we will have a reentry testing. It's not feasible, given a week's time to ask students to get tested and bring results back. So our plan now that we're putting together is how to test all of the students, once they do come back. So that's that's the plan, we're just still putting details together with it.

TW: All right, we didn't really have too many questions today so that's all. Is there anything else that we haven't talked about that you want to add?

PP: Nope, you're on it.

TW: All right, well thank you guys so much for taking the time to talk to me.

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