Washington College today officially announced the plan for the upcoming spring semester, which includes bringing about 450 students back to campus, initially continuing with online learning — with the possibility of a transition to in-person learning at the midway point; and a focus on programming and activities that foster social connection and engagement, whether online or in a socially-distanced and safe format.
“We are pleased that in a few months’ time, we have progressed to a point where we have protocols, processes and a structure in place that combine to allow us to be equal parts optimistic and pragmatic as we prepare for what is still an uncertain future,” said Washington College Interim President Wayne Powell, Ph.D. “What we do know for certain is that we are forging ahead with a plan that offers positive academic and social experiences for all and we are looking forward to a great semester.”
Key takeaways from the plan announcement include:
- All first-year students will first be invited to return, prioritizing students who have not yet experienced life on campus. Upperclassmen who support first-year students’ social and academic transition will also be invited and any student who was living on campus in the fall will be able to remain. An application process will be used to fill the remaining on campus spots.
- For those students invited to live on campus, returning to campus is optional.
- All classes will remain online to start the semester. This format allows students to stay together while some remain at home, some will continue living off campus but local, and another group will reside on campus. Online instruction guarantees continuity of instruction in what continues to be a very uncertain time. This approach will be re-evaluated at the midway point to determine if key indicators support a transition to in-person learning.
- Students who will reside on campus will be moving into the residence halls in phases in late January. Classes will now start one week later, on February 1. Spring Break has been reduced to a 4-day weekend later in the semester (March 25-26). As of now, Graduation is still scheduled as an in-person event on May 23.
- There will be a focus on programming and activities that encourage social connection and interaction. This will be a mix of socially-distanced in-person events and virtual activities and opportunities designed for increased social engagement.
- A COVID Dashboard will be published by the end of this calendar year, along with the Key Indicators/Alert Level chart. This data-driven approach will guide operational decisions as it relates to services, building access and potential in-person activities.
The full announcement can be found here.
Taking this data-driven approach and factoring in adequate space for quarantine and isolation needs for when positive cases of COVID occur is how Washington College officials arrived at the decision to proceed with the low-density residential and online academic model. At this head count, every one of the 450 students on campus will be in a single room and there will be minimal sharing of bathrooms and fixtures.
Washington College’s Health Services Team has worked diligently to establish protocols and procedures around testing, contact tracing and on-campus isolation and quarantine, to include routine health checks for individuals who are isolated.
These measures are all in line with the guidance issued recently by the Institutes of Higher Education (IHE) in Maryland Department of Health’s Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs). In addition to detailing out proper preventive measures, and recommendations for managing quarantine and isolation, this resource defines an outbreak and provides for what should be reported to the local health department.
By bringing students to campus and maintaining online learning for at least the first half of the semester – when winter and flu season risk factors are at their peak – the College expects to be better able to maintain a healthy community and then be in a position to potentially pivot to in-person learning. Any transition to in-person instruction will be a high-flex model, as the online component will continue for students not on or near campus.
Additionally, no new off-campus waivers will be granted, therefore the number of students living within the Chestertown community is expected to remain the same.
Washington College will also be supplementing the semester with a focus on activities that allow for increased social connection and engagement. These opportunities will be extended in a socially-distanced and responsible format for those on or near campus and virtually for students who will remain at home.
Decisions about many services and other campus operations will be announced much closer to the start of the spring semester. These decisions remain contingent upon where things fall within the Key Indicators Chart that is currently in development and the Alert Level at which the College is operating within at any given time.