Jim Henderson

UL System President Jim Henderson addressed One Acadiana's monthly luncheon about Compete LA in 2019.

The UL System plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall semester, the nine-campus university system announced Monday afternoon.

A system committee will meet later this month to review guidelines to assist its universities in transitioning back to campus activities, the news release said. The guidelines will address re-populating the campuses based on testing requirements, increased hygiene and social distancing protocols.

Campuses closed across the state once the spread of coronavirus  reached full tilt. By the end of March, institutions had moved all in-person lectures online. Classes will remain online during the summer.

"Throughout this event our member institutions have prioritized safety and learning," University of Louisiana System president Jim Henderson said in a statement. "Those will remain our chief considerations as we begin the process of re-populating our campuses. The university experience is more than just attending class and we are optimistic, with the right safeguards in place and following the guidance of health experts, that we will be able to safely return to campus in August.”

The schools in the UL System are Grambling State University, Louisiana Tech University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University of Louisiana, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans.

The announcement came within an hour of Gov. John Bel Edwards finishing a news conference in which he laid out Phase One of lifting Louisiana's stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic.

The gradual move toward loosening restrictions allows places like gyms, barber shops and casinos to operate at 25% occupancy.

The LSU System braced for such a re-opening when it released its own Phase One plan on April 30. The plan said LSU would return a 25% maximum of the school's employees starting May 18, if Edwards indeed followed through with his own plans to slowly amend his stay-at-home order.

LSU's two-page plan said "critical personnel" will return in a "very limited capacity" to "develop plans for occupancy." Interim LSU president Tom Galligan said lab researchers will make up the large majority of LSU's first returning employees.

Classes at LSU will still remain online.

The Middleton Library, the Veterinary Medicine and Law libraries, teaching labs, the UREC and the student union and bookstore will remain closed to users.

The UL System's plan for a return to in-person instruction comes at a time where institutions of higher learning are all weighing resuming campus activities versus the ebbing status of the coronavirus that once surged exponentially across the country.

Tulane University, based in hard-hit New Orleans, and Southern University are both still examining scenarios.

Athletic activities at each institution are tied into their conference leaderships, and sports leagues around the country are making plans behind the scenes as they await the guidelines handed down to them from federal and local health leaders.

Edwards listed "contact sports" as one of the following businesses that are to remain closed during Phase One, and, when asked about Phase Two Monday, he refused to delve into details.

Meanwhile, the transition continues for Louisiana's colleges and universities, which are still distributing over $75 million in CARES Act funds for students affected by COVID-19.

Louisiana's system presidents also spoke before the House Appropriations Committee on Friday, urging legislators not to cut education funds in the state budget, due June 30.

Maintaining enrollment numbers has been a major focus for Louisiana's school systems. According to the Louisiana Board of Regents, funding for the state's four public school systems depends 65.8% on student tuition and fees.

The system presidents all stressed the value of in-person classes with the appropriation committee, and the UL System has taken its first step toward making those classes happen on its campuses.

"Our universities have been in lock-step through the interruptions we experienced the past couple of months," Henderson said. "This systemic coordination is beneficial to students, faculty, staff and the state as a whole."

Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.