Dean of Students comments on in-person return

Matthew Drewry

Winona State University recently announced it plans to hold a majority of classes in person for the upcoming fall 2021 semester.

Dean of students Karen Johnson explained the decision.

“We are hoping for 70 percent in-person classes. Which to me that just seems like a really nice mix because some students truly do like the online classes,” Johnson said.

Professor Andrea Gierok, instructor in the public health program, gave her thoughts.

“I think it’s a good decision. I think a lot of students need to get back in the classroom. I know a lot of faculty you want to get back in the classroom. And I’m one of those. And I think we can do it safely,” Gierok said.

Ken Janz, chief information officer, dean of the library and associate vice president for academic affairs spoke of the sources Winona State consults for guidance on COVID-19 policy.

“One of our biggest guides is from both MDH [Minnesota Department of Health], and the system office on where they feel we should be,” Janz said. “And we just try and make the best plan to create the balance, to create a safe environment, but a great learning environment. And those aren’t always compatible, but we try to make them as much as possible.”

Janz, along with a group of other faculty and administration headed up a committee named the “COVID classroom instruction action option group”, responsible for making decisions that affected the future semester, including course offerings.

Janz cited a variety of factors, including future social distancing guidelines being lowered to three feet and vaccine distribution as important to allow for fall classes in-person.

“So, in the latest MDH guidance fall planning, you can do three-feet social distancing. So, you know what three-feet social distancing is? That’s almost a small classroom. It really is. Depending on the level of circulating virus, universal masking may still be required and depending on level and circulation of virus, assigned seating may be required,” Janz said. “So, we’re still looking at possibly mask wearing and assigned seating just in case there’s ever issues.”

Gierok said the current regulations have allowed for certain spring classes to be conducted in person safely.

“I think they’re doing it now safely in some classes. I think as long as we’re vigilant about lessening the risk,” Gierok said. “So, you know, like I said, the distance, the masks, the cleaning of classrooms after students leave, all of the things they’re doing now, I think if they continue to do those things in the fall, I think the risk is pretty minimal.”

Gierok spoke highly of Winona State’s compliance and attentiveness to guidelines but noted that risk still exists in returning to in-person.

“I think Winona State has done everything they needed to get us safely back in the classrooms or as much as they can possibly do. They’re following CDC guidelines and they’re following recommendations from the Department of Health and working with Winona county emergency management,” Gierok said. “So, I feel safe going back into the classroom. But I don’t have any real health issues or pre-existing conditions. And I think for those folks who do have pre-existing conditions or might be at higher risk, they’re going to have to evaluate that risk for themselves.”

Mackenzie Moroney, a graduate in nursing this fall semester, shared her opinion on the decision.

“I think that’s really exciting because I had like my first couple years in person and then last year was online, and I just loved the in-person,” Moroney said. “I felt like I was able to actually concentrate a little bit more and be able to really like retain the knowledge, especially being in nursing because in nursing it’s so hands-on.”

Johnson shared a similar excitement.

“I tend to be optimistic all the time, but I really am now. I hope this happens and I hope we can get COVID under control,” Johnson said.

Ava Beal is a fourth-year student at Farmington High School attending Winona State in the fall.

Beal said all of her classes for her upcoming first year will be in person, noting her distaste of virtual classes.

“I’m not crazy about online classes,” Beal said.

Beal noted her excitement about having more freedom and concerns about staying motivated and accountable in the upcoming semester, along with her hopes

“My hope is that I will find my path that will lead me to my passion, what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Beal said.