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Students come and go at the main entrnace to the LSU Student Union, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 during a mid-afternoon class changeover period. LSU says it anticipates being mostly back to normal by the fall semester, thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations.

After nearly a year of virtual learning with Zoom classes and socially distanced classrooms, LSU leaders say they're planning for the university's fall 2021 semester to look like things did before the coronavirus pandemic.

Students should expect that “fall 2021 will operate similarly to fall 2019,” wrote Interim President Tom Galligan and Executive Vice President and Provost Stacia Haynie in a letter to the LSU community Wednesday, as students prepare to register for their fall classes. 

“Assuming that vaccinations proceed as expected, we anticipate that by fall, we will be able to operate the way we did before the onset of the pandemic,” the letter said. “In other words, we expect the vast majority of courses to be delivered face-to-face once again, and for the majority of campus operations to be back to normal.”

The pair wrote that the university would continue to follow state and federal guidelines “with the safety of our campus community as our guidepost.” 

No official decision has been made about the summer session and intersession, but the university will closely follow Louisiana's COVID-19 response, Galligan and Haynie wrote. The university is also working on how its spring 2021 commencement will work.

The letter only applies to the outlook for fall classes on campus and not the potential for fans in the stands at LSU football games, said LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard. Decisions about football season will involve the state and the Southeastern Conference, Ballard said.

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“The message today was more of the message that President Galligan has been sharing with faculty and staff that we are encouraging people to get the vaccine when they are eligible and if the vaccine rollout continues as projected, we can return to face-to-face instruction in the fall,” Ballard wrote in an email.

Faculty Senate President Mandi Lopez said she saw Galligan and Haynie’s letter as a goal for the fall semester that is plausible.

“There’s a lot of time between now and then, but we are confident that with appropriate safety measures and the current state of vaccinations in the United States, it looks very promising,” Lopez said.

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Lopez added that precautionary measures like the wearing of masks, social distancing and the frequent cleaning of classrooms would still likely be needed on campus.

“I think the thing that will make most people most comfortable is the establishment and adherence to standardized safety practices that have been shown to be effective by everyone on the campus," Lopez said. “That is really what is required for everyone to function safely in the current world status.”

Other higher education campuses in Baton Rouge are yet to make any statements on their outlook for the summer and fall semesters.

Baton Rouge Community College officials are monitoring the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the region but haven’t made any decisions on the outlook for the fall semester, spokeswoman Kizzy Payton said.

“We are hopeful that as vaccinations continue to be made available that we will be able to return to our pre-COVID-19 operations and welcome our students back for face-to-face classes,” Payton wrote in an email.

Southern University spokeswoman Janene Tate said the university hasn’t made any decisions “outside of our current operations” for the fall.

Our Lady of the Lake Chief Medical Officer Dr. Catherine O’Neal said full, in-person classes in the Baton Rouge area this fall are a possibility and encouraged the public to get vaccinated to hasten a return to normal life.

“Normal in terms of return to full in-person classes? Yes, that’s reasonable. In terms of packed bars and stadiums? That is yet to be determined and depends on several factors between now and then,” O’Neal said in a statement. “The best way to ultimately empty our hospitals and fill our stadiums is for everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn.”

Staff writers Brittney Forbes and Sam Karlin contributed to this article.