President Bob Iuliano informs students about the College’s plans for the spring semester.
I write to provide an important update regarding our plans for the spring semester.
As has been true from the outset of the pandemic, our decisions are informed by a number of considerations. We are a residential college and believe our students learn best when together with each other and with our dedicated faculty. We also have an unwavering commitment to the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and community. This latter commitment necessarily means that the plans we outline below are subject to adjustment as we monitor the virus and respond to state and federal guidance. We are more than 10 weeks away from the scheduled start of the semester and recognize how much can change over that time. We are also watching with particular care the concerning rise in COVID-19 cases across the nation, in Pennsylvania, and in Adams County. As the spring semester approaches, we will provide regular updates on whether the state of the pandemic is affecting the timing or other important aspects of our spring plans.
In coming to our decisions, we have been guided by public health experts and various advisory groups. We have also carefully assessed the experience in the fall semester, both here and elsewhere. We still have additional details to resolve between now and February, and will have more to say in the weeks ahead as our work progresses.
Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors Invited to Return to Campus
After careful consideration, the College’s current plans are to open at limited residential capacity, utilizing primarily single bedrooms, and to invite the sophomore, junior, and senior classes back to campus for the spring semester. As in the fall, students will have the choice whether to accept the invitation to return to residence or to study remotely. First-year students will have the opportunity to petition to remain on campus for extenuating personal circumstances.
On-campus students should anticipate that there will be a mix of in-person and online instruction. There may be other adjustments to the structure of academics in the spring semester and we will keep you informed about those changes. As I shared previously, we currently expect that the semester will start on February 1, 2021. You can view the full academic calendar on our website, which includes new Commencement dates for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
Structure of the Spring Semester
As I have noted, the College studied other colleges’ experiences, examined our own experience, and tested various possibilities for the spring semester. Here are some of the judgments we’ve made based on that work:
- Single rooms: We will maintain a lower than normal residential density on campus and will assign, to the extent possible, only one student per room. The singles approach has worked well since we transitioned to a smaller residential cohort, and there is evidence it has been effective elsewhere. Importantly, it also allows the College to have more flexibility in its quarantine protocols—a significant challenge we previously experienced that, in part, led to our decision to de-densify in September. Given the use of single bedrooms, we will not be able to use Fall 2020 housing assignments as a starting point for spring housing. Residence Life will be providing new lottery numbers to all students returning to residence and running a new housing process for the Spring 2021 semester. Students will hear more about this process in early December.
- Student testing: We have significantly increased our testing capacity for the spring semester. Upon arrival, every student will be tested twice within their first week on campus and remain in quarantine pending two negative test results (approximately 5-6 days). Thereafter, students will be tested two times per week, although the frequency may be adjusted depending on the state of the virus or changes in testing systems. We are also working to see if it is possible to have every residential student tested at home immediately before they arrive on campus. We will contract with a new testing company that is able to provide more expansive capacity for all parts of our testing strategy—from registration, to swabbing, to reporting of results. This change in our testing partner will allow College staff to be redeployed to focus more attention on caring for positive cases and working through the contact tracing process.
- Employee testing: Immediately before the start of the spring semester, employees who expect to come to campus regularly will be tested. Thereafter, a percentage of employees who spend time with students (such as faculty and Health Center employees) will be tested on a weekly basis. Any employee who is named as a close contact to a positive case on campus will also have the opportunity to be tested. Contact tracing for employees will be managed through the Human Resources Department.
- Case management: We are adding personnel to assist with positive case management. We have also updated our quarantine and isolation protocols in various respects. Most importantly, by moving to primarily single bedrooms, the majority of close contacts will be able to quarantine in their rooms without having to be moved to a separate quarantine space. This will both improve the student experience and reduce the significant logistical issues that proved challenging in the early fall.
- Compliance and enforcement: A recurring theme in the past few months—raised by students, parents, and other members of the community—was that the College more visibly and more stringently enforce the public health protocols we have put in place. We know that masks and physical distancing are effective in protecting against the transmission of the virus—and that, at least in part, the cases we experienced on campus in the fall occurred because people let their guard down. We are working to further simplify and further clarify the rules for the community. In addition, the conduct and resolution process for student COVID-19 violations is being streamlined and enforcement will be increased through more staff in the Department of Public Safety and additional hearing officers. More information on our behavioral expectations and associated sanctions will be forthcoming in early December; in general, however, students should expect to be reassigned to the remote cohort if they are not meeting their obligations to protect against the spread of the virus within the College community.
- Additional staffing: We plan to add staff to key areas in Health Services, Residence Life, and Public Safety to help manage our day-to-day COVID-19 response.
Your Plans to Return
If you are a sophomore, junior, or senior student, it’s very important that the College understands your intent to return to campus for the spring semester. We ask that you declare your intent to return no later than December 15. If we don’t hear from you by this date, we will assume that you have elected to be part of the remote cohort. Our commitment is to provide additional information about the spring semester before that date to help you and your family make the best decision. Our website outlines the dates by which you can expect to hear more information from us, as well as details related to tuition and financial aid for both the spring residential and remote cohorts.
Life on Campus
As you determine whether to return to campus, we ask that you thoughtfully consider how the spring semester will be structured, and if this approach is agreeable to you. We understand that we must balance your experience with policies designed to protect your health and safety and that of the community. None of us wants a repeat of our situation in the fall, when cases spiked and necessitated the actions we took. We are likewise mindful that the semester is scheduled to begin during the winter, when we will be spending more time indoors and the need to comply with masking and physical distancing is especially important.
For these reasons, students should expect strict enforcement protocols for COVID-19 violations in the spring semester. You should also know that the campus experience, in terms of dining options and events on campus will be limited, especially in the winter months when spaces on campus are serving other foundational operations. Lastly, as we experienced in the fall, if there is an uptick of positive cases on campus, the College may require residential students to study remotely from their residence halls, together with necessary restrictions on other activities, until the presence of the virus on campus subsides. If these approaches to the spring make you pause, we ask that you weigh your options of returning carefully.
Let me be clear: we want our students to return to campus, but if you find these rules to be burdensome or if you know that it will be difficult for you to comply, please seriously consider whether a return to residence is the right choice for you. We have heard from many parents and students about the importance of a return to residence, and we owe it to each other not to have our actions interfere with the ability of fellow Gettysburgians to have a residential experience.
Our spring plans have been informed by consultations we have had throughout this fall with student leadership, students, and parents. I am grateful to everyone I have been able to speak with over the past several months—individually and in our many group discussions—regarding every aspect of the College’s operations and protocols amid this pandemic.
We have learned a lot this semester. Sometimes, I am sorry to say, painfully—and in ways that have been difficult for our students and families. We are doing everything we can to act on what we have learned, including from the experiences of other institutions. Learning together is how we as a Gettysburg College community will best navigate this challenging time.
We will host a town hall for first-year students and their parents on December 2 at 7 p.m. to answer your questions and talk more about the spring. There will also be a town hall for sophomore, junior, and senior students and their parents on December 3 at 7 p.m. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions you have now or for the upcoming town halls. If you are emailing with town hall questions, please make that indication in the subject line of your email.
The College phone bank (717-337-8800) will be open from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 18; noon to 3 p.m. on Thursday, November 19; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, November 20. The College is closed for Thanksgiving week, but a small group of College personnel will intermittently check email and phone bank voicemail throughout that time. We thank you for your patience and understanding during the holiday.
Please continue to take care of yourself, to look out for those around you, and to lean on and help one another as we all move through this time together. My thanks to all those on and off campus who continue to do so, and to everyone for staying connected with friends, classmates, and faculty within the Gettysburg community. We look forward to sharing further information with you very soon.