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Administrators say block schedule keeping students safe at Cornell College

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Students on campus at Cornell College on Tuesday.

MOUNT VERNON, Iowa (KWWL) - Some small, private universities in Iowa have been able to put a lot of distance between their students for the pandemic this fall semester.

Cornell College in Mount Vernon has been using a "block" schedule for 42 years but it's really coming in handy in 2020. Students take one class at a time for 3 1/2 weeks, then start another block after a long weekend.

"The block plan for the pandemic is really nice because that way we can plan where we have to be and keep track of who we're around a little bit easier," Kyle Munholland said, a junior at Cornell.

Students are still in the first block because they started two weeks late due to the derecho. Fifteen of the 66 total classes are fully-online, 46 meet both online and in-person and only five are fully in-person. When students meet in-person, the average class size is 14.

"For me, I have nine people in my class right now. So, I feel much more secure," Munholland said.

In addition to the block schedule, administrators feel regular testing of students is helping their cause. Cornell tests about 100 asymptomatic students per week, mainly coming from high-exposure groups like band and athletic teams.

So far, not one student has come back positive, according to the university's COVID-19 dashboard.

"The strategy is to randomly test students in high-contact groups," Nancy Reasland said, pandemic response coordinator for Cornell.

They're also randomly testing all staff members, and students experiencing respiratory symptoms. Two staff members have tested positive since August 25.

University president Johnathan Brand says Cornell is the only Iowa school with this block system right now but he thinks that'll soon change.

"The ability to move between blocks remotely or on-campus is seamless and easy," Brand said.

Brand says other universities have inquired about Cornell's format over the last few months.

Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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