BEMIDJI -- Shifting gears from an original sentiment that regardless of online class status, students should come to Bemidji in the fall, Bemidji State University is now only allowing the 500 students who are either student-athletes, have an in-person class on their schedule ahead of July 31, or have extenuating circumstances remain in on-campus dorms.

Travis Greene, BSU’s associate vice president for student life and success, said this was not a decision made lightly.

How many students will be affected?

This latest decision directly affects 300 students, about 6% of BSU’s student population. Ordinarily, 25% of BSU students live in residence halls.

“We have the capacity of housing up to 1,500 students, but if you look at the last five years average, it’s anywhere from 1,100-1,300 students who live on campus,” Greene said. “We were planning on having just over 900 students living in the residence halls, that way we could do one person per room, practice that social and physical distancing and not have to worry about that spread. And that was our plan, up until a couple of weeks ago.”

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As of July 31, around 100 students had already canceled their housing applications in favor of remaining at home. This left 800 students who wanted to live in BSU’s residence halls come fall.

“Since 93-95% of our classes are online anyway, a lot of students are staying at home, saving money and then they’ll come back to campus when they’re ready. When all is said and done, we’re looking at 800 students that wanted to live on campus,” Greene said. “We were able to prioritize the 500 students that have an on-campus class, a science lab, music rehearsal and intercollegiate athletics. And we’ll always be able to house students who are housing or food insecure, maybe it’s not safe for them to go home for any reason.”

The remaining 300 students have only online classes, Greene said. The majority of courses offered at Bemidji State this fall -- approximately seven out of eight classes offered -- will be conducted online or via hybrid or hy-flex models. Hybrid style courses will be conducted primarily through remote means but will offer some face-to-face instruction.

Students living on campus are not being consolidated into just a few buildings, instead, they will be spread out throughout campus residence halls, which Greene said will help slow the spread.

“Because of the way COVID spreads, we’re going to space them out,” he said. “We’re actually going to use all of our residence halls, we’ll just have approximately half of what we’d regularly have in our buildings.”

Greene added Linden Hall, which is usually reserved for upperclassmen, may be used to house freshmen students in the fall.

University Heights and Cedar Hall apartment residents are not affected by this decision.

The status of BSU’s dining halls is up in the air. There will certainly be dining services available for the students living on campus, but the extent of hours and which buildings will be open is dependent on how many of those students request meal plans. The dining area in Walnut Hall will definitely be open, Greene said, but the fate of Lakeside has not yet been determined.

Many student services will remain open in the fall, including the counseling and health center, career services, the advising success center, financial aid office and the Gillett Wellness Center.

BSU and NTC also recently announced all campus visitors will need to complete health screening forms before entering campus. This includes students living on campus.

Students will begin classes on Aug. 24.

How was this decision made?

Greene said this difficult decision was reached through guidance from Sanford Health and public health officials

“We looked at our capacity, we looked at the way the virus is trending. We’ve known that for Beltrami County and Bemidji specifically, our spike was going to be around Labor Day,” Greene said. “We knew that was a time we were going to see an increase, given how quickly things were rising in Beltrami.

“We need to keep our BSU community as safe as possible while navigating this unprecedented crisis together. A reduced residential environment means that the potential for community spread will be decreased and we can continue to progress toward normal operations.”

When can those students return?

This decision doesn’t have a set end date. It could change in the spring, or possibly sooner. Greene said officials want to be intentional about this decision, as the worst-case scenario would be having a spike in cases requiring all students to be sent home.

“When we can welcome more people back, we will certainly do that,” Greene said. “For the 300 students who have online class, we’re asking them to hang tight. We’re telling them spring semester, but if we overshot and we don’t see the spike we think we’re going to see, we can maybe bring back students mid-semester.”

Greene added if the decision was made to bring back additional students, it would need to be staggered.

“If we brought back 900 students or 800 all at once, the way this virus is heading we’re pretty confident it would have spread beyond our control to manage and then we would have needed to be in the position we found ourselves in this spring -- sending people home mid-semester,” he said. “We don’t want to do that unless that’s our option of last resort.”