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Coronavirus in Texas

Texas A&M is looking at Saturday and late-night options to reduce class sizes and comply with social distancing

Chancellor John Sharp offered some ideas about what the fall semester could look like, but the system won’t have a finalized reopening strategy until at least the end of May.

Texas A&M University in College Station.

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In an effort to reduce class size to comply with social distancing, Texas A&M University System officials are mulling a schedule in the fall that could allow class slots from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and include Saturdays, said John Sharp, system chancellor, during an online speaking event Thursday.

The chancellor’s remarks come exactly a week after he announced to all 11 university presidents in the system that campuses will reopen in the fall and be ready to play sports. The University of Texas System and Texas Tech University also announced that they intend to reopen in the fall.

The school system won’t finalize its fall reopening strategy until at least the end of May, when the university board is expected to call a special meeting. Changes proposed by the university committee working on its reopening strategy must receive board approval, system spokesperson Laylan Copelin told The Texas Tribune.

In addition to reducing the number of people who are in class and on campus at the same time, common areas may be closed off and have furniture removed to discourage gathering in large groups.

Sharp said schools may also recommend that students stay on campus throughout the duration of the fall semester, rather than going home for scheduled breaks, to contain spread. Copelin said in an interview that’s not something the university can enforce.

“One thing's for sure, we can't wait till August and decide, 'OK, let’s work out of the details about [how] we’re going to open this up,’” Sharp said. “We have to open it up now and hope like crazy that we're gonna be able to do that. It's real important for our students to get back there, to get back in the classrooms."

Students and faculty members who don’t feel comfortable or are unable to return to campus will still have remote learning options, Copelin said.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t affected the university system’s summer enrollment, and fall numbers are still “holding up,” but last-minute drops are still a possibility, Copelin said.

The school system has spent $20 million to reimburse students for on-campus services like housing, dining and parking. It is projected to lose up to $27 million more in revenue, which includes canceled events, Copelin said.

Texas’ institutions of higher education will get get about $1 billion in federal aid, according to a tally by the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Austin. More than a quarter of that money will be shared between the Texas A&M and University of Texas systems.

The federal stimulus programs gave A&M just under $40 million to be split between covering revenue losses and providing financial aid for students. The University of Texas system got $172.5 million for its 14 institutions.

“Federal relief will cover some of that but not nearly all of it,” Sharp said.

Disclosure: Texas A&M System, University of Texas System and Texas Tech University been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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