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.

Hope Shrum: Okay, so the first question we had was that, um, with the email you just sent out? Do you feel talked about that if the health providers say like anything, then we will go with what they say. Do you feel like a shutdown could happen with the college before the end of the semester?

President Prather: I hope not, Hope, but, you know, our job is to prepare for everything. So what I decided early on, when we got into all the complexities of this was that ultimately, passing judgment on the safety of the operation has got to be in the hands of people who make that decision medically. Because there's, there's all kinds of intricacies to this, including, honestly, just anxiety and emotion involved. So simply, there's got to be a dispassionate judgment about level of safety. And that's what we did in the spring, if...if you remember last spring...this seems like miniscule now, but there was a spike in Johnson County that was among the highest in the state. And there was all kinds of instant panic about that. What we were able to determine because of working with the county health department, and Dr. Mormon, county health officer, was that even though the number looked big, it was isolated to a couple of families in the northern part of the county that was really no threat to us. So we had, you know, some push here on campus, and maybe we oughta just flee, but at the time, that would have been unnecessary. By the same token, when we did decide to evacuate, it came because the doctors put their heads together and said — and they are advising the school corporations and other people in the community, you know — the safest thing for you to do is go remote. So I don't want to make that decision, because I'm not medically equipped to make it. But I also trust that they're calculating all of those factors that everybody in the country is taking into consideration. Dr. Dunkel has a minute by minute accounting of hospital beds, ICU, ventilators, all the metrics in the worst of this that were kept track of Dr. Mormon knows exactly what the cases are, where they are, what the trends are. So I feel like we're being really well served by gathering as much data as we can on campus, handing it to them, letting them analyze it, and then giving this advice accordingly. Our part in this when I say, I don't want to personally make the decision, my decision is to take their advice, and apply it to how we function. So there's a certain amount of nuance to how we do what we do too, so there's just a lot of back and forth dialogue. I was on the phone with Dr. Dunkel on Thursday for a long time, Dr. Morman for another half hour just to talk through kind of what everybody sees, and where we go from here.

HS: So has the college considered keeping students home for the remainder of the semester after they've been sent home for Thanksgiving break, due to all the traveling and rising numbers across the country and state?

PP: Well, will we have but you know, there again, our students are in transit all the time. So the fact of the matter is, we're already experiencing students home for weekends, they come back, we've got a little different geography than some nationwide institutions where students are flying in and flying out in massive numbers. But even at that, I'm not sure drawing a distinction, state to state or being someplace and assuming that it's less less safe than being here actually helps us very much at this point. So the only consideration we're giving to what you suggested was in an entire array of options if our situation dictated that. I don't want to operate on supposition because some of that has doesn't serve us nearly as well as hard data. Now, all of that said, Hope, and it's not unique to Franklin — it's everybody preaching the same message right now — what we are counting on is that students who go home for Thanksgiving, are careful when they're home, both because they're relocating from here to there, and also knowing that they're going to relocate back to here. So everything is premised now on us relying on students and faculty and staff of just being careful every place they go.

HS: So what is Immersive Term going to look like? Like, how are classes going to change and how might immersive experiences be limited or shut down altogether?

PP: Well, you need to talk to Dean Flora, for the specifics of that. The short version is that we're going to have the same off campus experience restrictions that we've had in the fall semester. So we're not going to approve any off campus experiences, unless they are required for a student to graduate on time. Everything else we'll do virtually.

HS: So is that the only restriction that like the off campus had? For the fall?

PP: Pretty much, yeah, that pretty much encompasses everything, and then the ones we have approved one by one, based on student application, what we've asked is for documentation that the receiving institution, wherever that student is going, is following protocols as detailed and as prescriptive as ours, and that the student understands the protocol in transit. So you've got the transportation protocol, then say, if you're, if you have to do an in person experience, to stay on time to graduate, then we'll expect whoever's hosting you to provide us with documentation about how they're protecting you. And in some, and in many cases, we have been asked to provide the same documentation to those host institutions of what we're doing on campus.

HS: And then classes will look like how they've been looking in the fall?

PP: Yes, classes will look like they have in the fall. But we've had to expand the classes, because we've got more upper class students who will be in class as opposed to being in the field. So she's got the details of all of that, we've worked through all of it. And it's been no small task, because it's a completely different looking Immersive Term.

HS: So I know you don't have the exact numbers, but do you know if we're seeing more students in quarantine isolation now than we did a few weeks ago?

PP: As of last week, we actually had fewer...And we had none on campus last week. So everyone who was in isolation or quarantine was at home. But [Dean Jones] has an off the top of his head number, much better than I.

HS: Why did the college never reinforce the scheduled meal times after our week off?...After our week off whenever we took the virtual week, why did the college never reinforce the scheduled mealtimes?

PP: You'll have to check with Dean Jones. But I think the dining patterns...Yeah, I shouldn't even say, Hope. Run that by him. There was a reason that happened, because that was about the only thing that students found most problematic to work around was lunchtime. So I know we discussed that at length but check with him about what they finally determined from data.

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