Memorandum to the Marist Community Regarding the Spring 2021 Semester
Dear Marist students and families,
Happy New Year! As we begin 2021, I wanted to share our plan for the spring semester so that you know what to expect and can make appropriate arrangements. We successfully completed the fall 2020 semester thanks to the tireless efforts of the entire Marist community, and I strongly believe we can repeat this success in the spring. With vaccinations now underway, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and what is required of us is a few more months of focus and discipline.
In formulating this reopening plan, we relied on the advice of our own medical team and outside public health guidance. We also consulted with our faculty leadership and academic administrators to get their perspectives. This plan was developed with two key goals in mind: continue keeping our community safe, while at the same time providing the best possible educational experience for our students under the circumstances of this pandemic. Our plan is based on the following assumptions:
- While all of us have welcomed the arrival of the new coronavirus vaccines, the pandemic is far from over, and we expect to be operating under similar COVID-19 restrictions during the spring 2021 semester, e.g., the wearing of masks, social distancing, no large gatherings, etc.
- In all probability, January and February will be peak periods for the spread of both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu.
- As we get further into the spring semester and the weather improves, there will be more opportunities for students to be outdoors and to participate in some of the traditional aspects of collegiate life. In addition, as more people receive the coronavirus vaccine, public health conditions may improve, but this is not guaranteed.
- All things considered, the current scientific evidence suggests that a later opening is preferable to an earlier one.
With all of these factors in mind, here are the main elements of Marist’s plan for the spring semester:
- Delayed start. The traditional start of the spring term coincides with an expected surge of COVID-19 cases, the peak of the flu season, and the coldest part of the winter. Accordingly, the semester will begin on February 15 with remote coursework, while in-person classroom-based classes will begin on March 1. The spring semester will conclude on May 28. In addition to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on campus, we hope that the delayed opening will enable students to take advantage of the improving weather to participate in outdoor co-curricular and recreational events.
- Move-in. Phased move-in to residence halls will occur between February 15 and March 1. Students will receive specific assigned dates for move-in from the Office of Housing and Residential Life by January 15. Students coming from non-contiguous states and abroad will be subject to further testing requirements and additional quarantine protocols per New York State guidelines.
- Mandatory pre-arrival testing. All students must submit results from a non-rapid PCR test prior to arrival to campus. All tests should be taken within 14 days of arrival to campus – no student will have access to campus, including housing, without test results confirmed by Health Services. This prearrival testing requirement was used in the fall, and it was one of the important factors that kept Marist’s COVID-19 positivity rate low compared to other colleges and universities that didn’t require pre-arrival testing.
- Mandatory flu vaccination. Flu shots are mandatory for all students and must be uploaded to Student Health Services no later than February 1, 2021, unless they have a religious or medical exemption.
- Enhanced surveillance testing. Our three-tiered testing approach (pre-arrival, symptomatic, and surveillance) was another key part of our success in controlling the spread of COVID-19 during the fall, and our medical team has recommended that we increase the surveillance testing program in the spring. Students will be tested upon campus arrival and regularly throughout the semester. We believe this enhanced testing protocol will allow Marist students to enjoy more campus activities, which the Student Affairs team is currently planning. We know last semester was challenging, and we want to be particularly attentive to students’ wellbeing, self-care, and stress relief.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols. Guided by the latest research, we are modifying our cleaning protocols in both classrooms and student residence halls to mitigate the most likely means of transmission of the coronavirus. This means that housekeepers will spend more time on high-touch surfaces, which our own testing and scientific studies indicate should remain the area of focus. In the classroom, this change will increase the efficiency of cleaning and restore teaching time for each class period. The reduced density of students and faculty waiting in between classes will be maintained. We will rigorously clean classrooms three times a day and provide cleaning supplies in each classroom for individual use. In the residence halls and classrooms, we will continue to use the same products that hospitals employ to sanitize their own facilities.
- Elimination of semester breaks and holidays. Similar to our strategy for the fall, we will be eliminating multi-day breaks such as spring break and the Easter holiday. This will reduce travel and reinforce the concept of Marist as an “island.” Medical professionals advise that the more people one comes into contact with, the greater the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Thus, we want to minimize the number of people coming to campus, as well as the number of people leaving campus and then returning.
- Elimination of Saturday classes. During the fall, we held classes on Saturdays so we could successfully complete the on-ground portion of the semester by the Thanksgiving break. This was done in order to prevent students returning back to Marist from all parts of the country after the holiday. Because we are canceling semester breaks and holidays, we believe it is no longer necessary to hold Saturday classes. In addition, both faculty and students said that they believed eliminating Saturday classes would enhance the learning experience at Marist. However, we will still be prohibiting all non-essential travel by students as a way to protect the health and safety of the Marist community.
- Commencement. We hope to be able to schedule graduation exercises, but that will be dependent on what is allowed by state and local public health officials. As more information becomes available to us, we’ll communicate further with members of the senior class and their families.
We believe that this plan provides the safest possible environment for our students, faculty, and staff. It should be noted, however, that our plans are subject to modification by federal, state, or local authorities as public health conditions dictate. You will be receiving additional and more specific information from Housing and Residential Life, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Student Health Services, and Student Financial Services over the next couple of weeks.
Marist is committed to providing students with a vibrant academic program and a robust on-campus experience within appropriate health and safety guidelines. The College fared better than many peer institutions last semester, and we want to continue this success. I have every reason to believe we will do so because I’ve seen the dedication, flexibility, and grit of the Marist community. I know we are up to this challenge.
Dennis J. Murray