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Shrubbery spells out 'SOUTHERN,' with A.W. Mumford football stadium in background, at entrance to campus, Wed., Nov. 16, 2017.

The chancellor of Southern University said Tuesday most students are gravitating toward online classes or a combination of online and in-person classes for the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Engaging face-to-face represents probably the third option for students," said Ray Belton, who is also president of the Southern University system.

"That is driven by ongoing anxiety about COVID-19," he said, a reference to the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Belton made his comments one day after the school spelled out three options for students when classes resume in the fall: traditional, or in-person; fully online or a blend of traditional and online instruction, which is called hybrid.

He said the range of options stems from meetings with students and faculty.

"Certainly, we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to be guided by our institutional plan as was published," Belton said. 

"It is very important for us to have the opportunity to engage with our students," he said. "That engagement is what defines Southern University."

The school, like others around the state, is crafting plans to resume classes amid rising cases of the virus in Louisiana.

Southern and other colleges were forced to move to online classes last spring when cases of the virus began rising.

Despite detailed plans Belton said uncertainity remains the top concern.

"Just not knowing the degree to which the recent surge may ultimately determine how we move from one phase to another in terms of inviting students and faculty and staff back to campus," he said.

Classes are set to start on Aug. 12.

About 7,000 students were enrolled on the Baton Rouge campus last fall.

Two students and 17 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, according to the school's website.

The rules spelled out Monday say in-person classes will be capped at 15 students, about half the normal size.

Face masks are required at all times on campus.

Those entering campus have to have their temperatures checked at a designated location.

Classrooms will include social distancing.

The school has also spelled out a wide range of rules for students moving in to dormitories, including how many students can do so at once.

Only two non-residents will be allowed to assist and two people per elevator.

About half the students live on campus.

First-year students are set to move in Aug. 4. 

Continuing students are scheduled to do so on Aug. 10.

Belton said students and faculty alike will benefit from the fact that online instruction has become so prevalent in recent months, and that teachers have been able to move content to online platforms.

"That enthusiasm coupled with additional training we think we are better prepared as we go into fall," Belton said. "There has always been great appeal for online instruction.

"But I do not think it will ever replace the engagement that occurs, the face to face interaction. That is what students pay for, that engagement."


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.