Stetson Law Kicks Off 2020-2021 School Year

picture inside class

Mario Makram, an incoming first year law student from Clearwater, noted he was nervous on his first day of orientation August 11. But, he clarified, it was typical “first day of law school” jitters rather than fears associated with coronavirus. 

Thanks to the protocols in place, he was not as anxious as he might have been, he said.

Stetson University and Stetson University College of Law implemented many new policies, procedures and physical adjustments, as well as invested in new equipment and supplies, to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates regarding COVID-19 and to ensure that students, faculty and staff would be safe returning to campus for the first day of class August 17.

Wellness Centers throughout campus screen visitors.

The efforts that went in to make an in-person educational experience possible this year include:

  • Launching the Safer Stetson website for both the main campus in DeLand and the College of Law in Gulfport with all of the up-to-date information, resources and FAQs;
  • Launching the Everbridge mobile app for daily COVID-19 screening;
  • Creation of designated Wellness Stations as main access points during busy business hours and class times where students, employees and visitors will be required stop for health screening;
  • The installation of physical barriers in classrooms and offices where there is an increased potential for close contact with others;
  • Improving air quality via HVAC systems and other methods; 
  • Considerable technology investment to ensure all classrooms are outfitted with the necessary technology for dual-delivery classes, as well as giving both the Great Hall and Mann Lounge major technology upgrades, so those large spaces (typically used for major gatherings) can be utilized as classrooms this year;
  • Partnership with iSelectMD that provides Stetson Law students 24/7 access to real-time virtual medical consultations with physicians for COVID-19 concerns, as well as many other non-urgent, acute illnesses such as sinusitis and the flu;
  • Extensive new cleaning regimens using Environmental Protection Agency-approved cleaning solutions and tools, including electrostatic sprayers;
  • Color-coded Stetson branded lanyards to help distinguish between students, employees and visitors;
  • Visitor Screening form for campus guests, who must also stop at the Wellness Station in the horseshoe for additional screening prior to entering;
  • Periodic testing of students and employees at the College of Law; and
  • Of course, face coverings. Stetson Law purchased face coverings for all students and employees and implemented a strict Face Covering Policy.
Face coverings are required.

Residential students and those attending in-person classes were asked to obtain PCR testing within the two weeks before arrival to campus and provide the results to the Office of Student Life. Stetson will report all positive COVID-19 test results on the Safer Stetson website, although the site will not include any personally identifying information.

Stetson Law offered students a choice of taking classes in person, remotely or a combination of both for this academic year and worked to ensure all students who preferred to attend in-person classes would be able to do so. Approximately 75% of the incoming first-year class opted to pursue in-person for most or all of their classes, although many second and third-year students are taking a mix of both. The College of Law is able to offer this additional remote education pursuant to an approved American Bar Association variance to the rules regarding distance-education programs for ABA accredited law schools.

The College of Law admissions team worked diligently to bring in one of the largest classes in the past 10 years. Of the incoming 1Ls, about 85% chose to attend in-person orientation.

JoCynda Hudson, assistant dean for Student Affairs, and her team worked tirelessly to produce one of the longest and most logistically complicated orientation programs in the law school’s history to accommodate this year’s large incoming class while maintaining physical distancing and those who preferred to attend online. Orientation typically lasts three days, but this year it ran August 7-14 in multiple sessions.

Amanda Mercado, an incoming 1L from St. Petersburg who attended in-person orientation, said the orientation schedule was “inclusive,” and giving students the option of whether to attend in person or online alleviated any worries they might have had about safety.

Mia Hartley, an incoming 1L from St. Petersburg Beach, was moved to online remote orientation because of lack of capacity but found that she and her fellow students were still able to establish a rapport through online conversation and bond as a group.

“It was great! Even online I found the presenters to be very engaging, and the conversation through the chat tool to be productive and efficient,” Hartley said.

The Stetson Law community realizes a key to making the 2020-2021 academic year safe and successful is for everyone to do their part.

Jason Bent, associate dean for Academic Affairs, told one group of 1Ls: “If you want in-person classes, we want to deliver in-person classes, but we can only do that if you follow the rules.”

The rules being: wear a mask, maintain physical distance and do not gather in groups larger than 10. All staff and students should be aware that the new COVID-19-related policies have been added in addendums to both the Stetson University Personnel Policy and College of Law’s Code of Student Professionalism and Conduct.

Another key to making in-person classes possible this year is, ironically, technology.

While all of Stetson Law’s classrooms include the standard tech and audio/visual bundles of computers, projectors, media cabinets and microphones, they were equipped further with live webcasting appliances, additional microphones and cameras to make “dual delivery” possible.

“That’s our big secret sauce,” said Daniel Payne, director of the Office of Media Services.

A giant projection screen and monitors make the Great Hall ready for dual-delivery classes.

Dual delivery is when professors are teaching in-person classes, but students can watch remotely online in real time. Unlike live streaming, which is a one-way communication, the dual delivery enables the remote students to utilize their computer microphones and cameras to actively participate in classes, just like in a Zoom or GoToMeeting.

The Great Hall now boasts a 16-foot by 10-foot remote-operated projection screen hung from the ceiling, as well as six, 70-inch Samsung monitors mounted along the side walls, and a state-of-the-art sound reinforcement system to ensure sound is clearly delivered to the back of the room and to remote viewers. The Mann Lounge also features enhanced sound and multiple 70-inch monitors mounted to stands so they can be moved.

Payne spent four straight weeks designing the necessary technology infrastructure and working with a supplier to track down the equipment. Much of it is made in China and not readily available because of COVID-19 shutdowns and increased demands from schools across the country, leading to a nationwide search, Payne said.

Without this new equipment, the College of Law would have run out of space to host physically distant, in-person classes, he added.

Even with the technology, creating an academic calendar was a logistical challenge. The faculty and staff collaborated in stellar fashion to meet it. And all of the law school staff worked to ensure the campus was clean, safe and beautiful for the start of classes, according to Dean Michèle Alexandre.

“This academic year is going to be unlike any other, and we truly appreciate the patience and support of our College of Law community,” Alexandre commented. “We are confident our students will still experience the same rigorous legal education whether their classes are remote or in person, and that everyone will benefit from the safe environment we’ve worked hard to create and maintain. We are excited to welcome everyone back to campus.”

-Ashley McKnight-Taylor