Colleges announce spring reopening plans

As the pandemic continues to flare in the U.S., many colleges have adjusted their plans for the spring term accordingly. On Oct. 6, Wheaton released an updated academic calendar that pushed the start of the spring semester until Feb. 3, extending winter break to last over two months. This change came with the addition of an optional remote January session from Jan. 5 until Jan. 29, offering students additional credit and non-credit bearing opportunities. Hoping to avoid a surge in cases caused by a winter wave, Wheaton also announced the cancellation of spring break in March in an effort to limit off-campus travel. Housing during winter break will be extremely limited and dorm cleaning will be limited accordingly. But, other operations on campus and services will be halted to further reduce spread.

Wheaton joins many other colleges and universities, including the University of Alabama, the University of Arizona, and Boston University in extending winter break and canceling spring break. In response to concerns about the effect of a fast-paced semester on students’ mental health, Yale announced plans to distribute five break days throughout the semester to decompress the pace. Students would be prohibited from traveling during these break days, further limiting their potential exposure to the virus. 

Many colleges and universities reiterated plans to carry out a modified operational plan similar to that of the fall semester. In an effort to de-densify campus, Yale invited sophomores and upperclassmen to live on campus while encouraging first-years to continue taking classes remotely. As an initiative, the university offered underclassmen who completed at least one remote semester the option of taking two free courses during the Yale Summer Session. Claudine Gay, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, said that students’ adherence to social distancing policies bodes well for the “ability to continue to welcome students, and potentially even more students, back to campus in the spring.” The college plans to announce which students will be permitted on campus for the spring semester in early December, prioritizing freshman, seniors and those with difficult home learning environments. Gay added that “We’re hoping that we’re going to be in a position to welcome everyone back to campus next fall.”Other schools have held off on determining reopening plans or made the decision to move ahead with mostly remote instruction. Although the University of Massachusetts Amherst released a modified spring semester schedule in September, they noted on their website to “Please note that no decisions have been made yet regarding how instruction will be delivered (in-person or remote) or how many students will be allowed to live on campus. It is difficult to forecast the trajectory or impact of the pandemic going forward, but we will communicate these decisions in ample time for our students and their families to create plans.” Washington College in Maryland made the precautionary decision to move all spring 2021 classes online and to allow only 450 students on campus, about one-fourth of the student population. As a result, many students previously planning to return, reconsidered, preferring to take a leave of absence for the semester. Senior Anna Garow is “debating taking it off,” adding that she planned to return to campus in fall 2021 and finish her last semester in person.