Without question, there is still a ways to go before we can truly say we’ve conquered COVID-19, but at least contemplating a return to the way life used to be, if even only somewhat, is not only uplifting but also essential.
This was made clear in a press release issued by the South Dakota Board of Regents (BOR) Monday, stating that they aim to have South Dakota higher-education institutions return to a state of what the press release’s headline referred to as “normalcy” this fall.
“Our goal is to return campus life this fall to a setting that looks much like it was before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brian L. Maher, executive director and CEO for the South Dakota Board of Regents, in the press release. “With vaccines available now in higher education and K-12 settings, we can all look forward to more normal operations ahead.”
This is good news on many fronts, and not simply because so many of us are yearning to get back to those “before times” prior to the pandemic.
The closure of schools at practically all levels one year ago had a seismic impact on education in this state, as any student/parent or any teacher/administrator could tell you. While things reverted somewhat closer to normal in South Dakota when the school year began last August, there were always contingency plans and limitations looming in the background, whether it was for pre-kindergarten or for the University of South Dakota’s law school. Besides distance-learning options, there were — and are — limitations in place at many schools and campuses for what events people can attend or how they can attend them.
The colleges and universities dealt with these issues just like the high schools and elementary schools, but on a broader scale, with students remote-learning at points around the country, not just in the area.
Of course, what happened at those universities also impacted the communities they call home. In every one of those towns, the local college is a staple of the local economy and an immense factor of community life. The various restrictions created by COVID-19, whether it’s through distance learning or reduced attendance at activities, have had real consequences.
Thus, the BOR announcement Monday had to be greeted warmly by those communities, who are also hoping to get back to some normalcy in their relationship with their colleges and universities.
What’s more, aiming for a normal fall semester will be a big boost for students in terms of giving them a more complete college experience, which cultivates loyalty and, down the line, more robust alumni support.
“Students can expect to return to USD’s campus this fall and experience the full spectrum of student life, including in-person classes, activities, athletic events and more,” University of South Dakota President Sheila K. Gestring said in a press release. “We are optimistic about our ability to live and learn together as we did before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will continue to prioritize the health and safety of our campus and Vermillion communities as we navigate the weeks and months ahead.”
Make no mistake, however, that the threat posed by COVID-19 is still with us. While the ramping up of vaccinations is helping to turn this tide, concerns will remain for some time.
Nevertheless, plotting a course for a return to life is essential to building a new momentum that the colleges and the communities are going to need to propel themselves forward again. And with the right planning, this can happen.