A couple does a lap around the University of Maine campus, passing in front of Raymond H. Fogler Library in this April 2020 file photo. Credit: Nina Mahaleris

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Smaller classes in large spaces, sports events and performances without audiences, and the widespread use of face coverings are some of the measures colleges and universities in Maine are looking to implement as they plan for an in-person return to campus this fall.

Maine’s colleges and universities, both public and private, have collaborated on a framework for returning to in-person instruction on campus this fall, after they closed in mid-March and shifted all instruction online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The colleges and universities, with more than 70,000 students in all, estimate they lost $75 million this year due to campus closures. The University of Maine System estimates it’s lost $25 million to $30 million, largely from room and board refunds to students. The financial toll and a preference among students and faculty to return to campus combined to make putting together the framework for a return to campus a priority.

“Will things be the same way they were last September? No, they won’t,” University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said, “because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and we know what steps are most likely to keep people at less risk.”

Leaders from the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System, Bates College, the University of New England and the Maine Independent Colleges Association collaborated on the eight-page framework released Thursday.

The framework provides guidelines to institutions as they make reopening decisions while trying to prevent a wave of coronavirus infections. All of Maine’s 38 colleges and universities can use the guidelines as a starting point for more detailed reopening plans.

The document suggests that colleges and universities look at adjusting schedules to include phased returns to campuses, staggered semester breaks and end dates and modified classroom use to reduce the numbers of students on campus — and in any particular place on campus — at a single time.

The University of Maine System has mapped out all its classrooms to understand what the in-person capacity for each one should be, Malloy said. The system is also looking at offering classes in person and live online simultaneously.

“Education is changing and adapting in the pandemic,” he said. “Some of that change will be very long-lasting, and some things will go back to normal.”

Shutting down in-person operations in March was spontaneous, while planning for a return to campus is more gradual, Malloy said.

“We learn as we take smaller steps,” he said. “We had to close down overnight, but a reopening takes a little bit longer.”

While planning for a reopening, campuses are also preparing contingency plans for remote learning in case the pandemic surges come fall. To that end, the framework document urges colleges to expand internet access and further tailor in-person courses for online learning.

Watch: What does returning to normal look like?

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