BEMIDJI -- In just a few short weeks, Oak Hills Christian College plans to welcome its students back -- in-person -- with open arms, so long as those arms remain six feet apart, that is.

“I’m very happy to announce that we do plan to open with face to face classes,” said Leesa Drury, vice president of advancement and marketing at Oak Hills.

Coming into the fall of 2020 with a global pandemic rearing its head, a small, secluded campus like Oak Hills might be the ideal place to be, Drury explained.

She describes the college as a hidden gem, all too aware that many in the Bemidji community may forget it’s even there.

The college is positioned on a rural campus on Lake Marquette, and has 100 students, according to its website. Drury said these qualities may make it well situated to accommodate COVID-19 concerns.

“We’re automatically set up for accommodating the social distancing protocols, even to our very location,” Drury explained. “We have a more outdoors campus, we aren’t massive in numbers, which is actually kind of nice.”

With its campus facilities, the school has the ability to spread out classrooms, and host classes outside if weather permits, she said. Class sizes will not exceed 25 students to allow for social distancing.

Drury said she is not yet sure how things will shake out in regards to enrollment numbers, because while it’s currently lower than usual, students are also enrolling much later than usual this year, too.

Sue Glidden, the vice president of academics and administration, recently detailed some of these plans to students in an email.

While there is not a plan to continue distance learning in the fall, the usual online classes are available, and Glidden mentioned classes will have the option to broadcast via Zoom in case individual students need to self-isolate or quarantine

“If someone needs to isolate, we will be able to project classes to you for a period of time,” the email said. “Isolation and quarantine rooms available. In the event that someone does test positive or been in contact with a positive COVID-19 person, we will have rooms (and services) available.”

Other fall aspects are still very much up in the air.

“August 24 at this point is our opening day, we are still developing what will be the system and the protocols for bringing students on to campus,” Drury said.

Students have been asked to wear masks on campus during the first two weeks of school, it is not yet known if this will continue.

Glidden detailed a four-point plan for students to stay safe in the fall:

  • Six it: Remain socially distant in classrooms and stay to the right in hallways to ensure a six-foot distance.

  • Mask it: Staff, faculty and students are asked to wear masks for the 14 days after the last student arrival. “We will review circumstances then to see whether or not to continue use of masks,” the email said.

  • Check it: Health checks will be conducted prior to entering residence halls.

  • Swipe it: Students will use special wipes to clean their desk area between classes. Deep cleaning will occur on a daily basis across campus.

Fall challenges

While Oak Hills does not have to face some of the problems seen by larger institutions in the fall, there are still challenges.

“One of the things Oak Hills is known for is our service requirements. The impact of our students serving in all sorts of areas as volunteers is impressive,” Drury said. That, of course, is something that is going to be affected by COVID-19.”

Addictions counseling, a unique program to Oak Hills, often collaborates with Sanford and other patient-based programs, which may also be affected.

In a message sent out to students, Glidden concluded, “It all boils down to caring for one another – some of our staff and students are in higher-risk categories.

“Whatever we feel is necessary, we do expect every student to follow the guidelines. We can do this.”