Initial Decisions about the Fall Semester
| by Laurie L Patton
Dear Middlebury Community,
I write to share the much-anticipated news of our decision to move forward with reopening for the fall semester. While this fall will look much different than at any time in our history, I am grateful that we will be able to come together again in a way that upholds educational opportunity while maximizing the health and safety of the entire Middlebury community.
People from all our campuses shared with us that they wanted to continue Middlebury’s mission of educating students to lead engaged, consequential, and creative lives; contribute to their communities; and address the world’s most challenging problems. This coming academic year we will be asking all Middlebury citizens to focus on two specific aspects of that mission: contributing to our communities by taking responsibility for our own and each other’s health, and addressing the world’s most challenging problems by doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while we are learning together.
As you know, our reopening planning has involved extensive consultation with all constituencies of the College and the Middlebury Institute at Monterey as well as state and local health officials and higher education experts. It is a monumental undertaking. I appreciate your many contributions during the recent months as we have worked to determine a new structure for every aspect of Middlebury life in support of our mission, from academics and student life to faculty and staff work protocols.
The health and safety of Middlebury people—on campus and off campus—is paramount. We will continue to follow, and in most cases exceed, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vermont Department of Health, and American College Health Association guidelines as we develop and adapt our plans. We will also continue to consult with our peers and fellow Vermont institutions. We have learned through this process that we must not only draw on our community expertise and ingenuity but also be flexible and adaptable. Those are Middlebury traits. So are patience and understanding as we continue to respond to this global pandemic.
In this document, I have broadly outlined new policies and procedures for our fall opening that will include a robust testing program and safety protocols. Given the daily changes we are seeing, we do not and should not have all the answers yet. However, based on our internal COVID-19 data dashboard, we have a solid framework with which to proceed. We do not have the final version of Governor Scott’s guidelines for college reopenings, but we have been working closely with the state and have a good sense of what the new guidelines will say. When we receive them, we will ensure that our policies and protocols are aligned. You can expect weekly updates on our progress throughout the summer.
Following best practices, we have designated a COVID-19 health communicator, Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator Jen Kazmierczak, and an overall COVID-19 communicator, Associate Vice President for Public Affairs Julia Ferrante. If you have further questions, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they or another Middlebury staff person will respond. I also encourage you to read closely our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about our plans. We will update the FAQs frequently throughout the summer.
Below is the overall framework within which we will be educating students this fall.
I. WHAT WILL LEARNING AT MIDDLEBURY LOOK LIKE?
We are encouraged by modeling reports from healthdata.org and other organizations that project low levels of COVID-19 in Vermont this fall. Adaptability will be essential to ensure a safe and successful opening. We have given careful consideration to adjusting the fall calendar to allow for a phased opening with minimal interruption and coming and going from campus. With that in mind, we plan for a 12-week semester: classes will begin September 8. There will be no October break. Friday, November 20, will be the last day of on-campus classes for the semester, followed by a week of break. Classes will resume on November 30 with a week of remote instruction, followed by remote final exams.
Classes and Classrooms
Our goal for the fall semester is to support in-person learning as much as possible while allowing the flexibility to pivot to remote learning if we need to. Many classes will be hybrid, with elements of both in-person and remote learning. Classroom spaces will be configured so that students are spaced apart and, in some cases, separated from faculty. We expect that about a third of classes will be taught remotely, so of the approximately 530 courses we will be offering, around 175 will be taught online. Some classes may be held outdoors, or when possible will incorporate outdoor experiences, a component long part of a Middlebury education.
Faculty members will have the option of teaching in person, remotely, or in a combination of modes. We also will offer faculty training and support as we prepare for the start of classes throughout the summer. Remote classes will still be Middlebury classes in their pedagogical commitment and care. Even in this changed environment, we will focus on opportunities for our students to receive the essence of a Middlebury education: transformational learning relationships with faculty, staff, and their fellow students.
We also understand that some students may wish to learn only remotely from off campus, and some may wish to not attend Middlebury this fall. As we have done this past spring, we will work closely with students whose circumstances might present them with learning and living challenges in the COVID-19 environment.
Reminder: For planning purposes, it is essential that students notify their dean by July 6 if they intend to withdraw for the fall 2020 semester. New students should notify the Office of Admissions, also by July 6, if they intend to defer admission.
II. WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT UPON ARRIVAL?
Student Arrival, Quarantine, Isolation, and Testing Protocols
Most of you are probably trying to imagine what the beginning of your fall 2020 Middlebury experience will look like. Students in all classes will be welcomed back to campus on a staggered move-in and orientation schedule with designated cohorts arriving on different dates. Beginning two weeks prior to their assigned arrival day, students must complete a 14-day quarantine at home. Once the 14-day quarantine period is complete, and if they have no COVID-19 symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19, they may travel to campus. While in transit, students are expected to maintain physical distancing, wear face coverings, practice frequent handwashing, and follow all applicable Vermont Department of Health and CDC guidelines. Those who are not able to quarantine at home before their arrival will be required do so in their dorm room on campus.
We are implementing a robust testing program in partnership with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Broad Institute, which will allow us to deliver tests for COVID-19 infection for students at two different times—as they arrive on campus and again after seven days. Students will remain in quarantine in their residence hall rooms for approximately 24 hours until test results are available. This quarantine period could be extended in the unlikely event of a delay in receipt of the test results. Meals will be delivered to dorms during the quarantine period. Students will not be able to leave their rooms except to use the bathroom, get their meals from the dorm delivery point, or in case of a medical emergency.
Upon receipt of a negative test result, students will be released from “room quarantine” to “campus quarantine.” During the campus quarantine period, students may move about campus, following all physical distancing and safety protocols in place at the time. However, for the health and safety of everyone, students will not be permitted to leave campus during this time.
The same quarantine, testing, and isolation protocols will apply for students who are living in off-campus housing, except that students will be expected to quarantine in their off-campus residences.
In the event a student has a positive test result, whether they are on campus or off campus, they will be placed in isolation housing at Munford House near our health center while being monitored by medical staff and while the Vermont Department of Health initiates contact tracing.
We are considering periodic testing throughout the semester.
While we would love to welcome back family and friends to campus in the Middlebury spirit, we must continue to follow state health and safety protocols and limit all visits to brief drop-offs on move-in day. Students may be accompanied by a single person to move in, but only students will be allowed to enter residence halls. To maintain adequate physical distancing, students will need to move themselves into their rooms. Information for students who require move-in assistance will be shared in an upcoming communication.
We know this is an important part of any student’s experience. We will be following all Vermont Department of Health rules regarding student housing. Middlebury’s large campus allows for various modifications to housing to support healthy student living following Vermont Department of Health guidelines. Student living will look and feel different in response to the health protocols we have developed. Student housing will be assigned according to a variety of parameters, with most students moving into single or double rooms and spaces with physical distancing guidelines in place. Some smaller houses near the Parton Center for Health and Wellness will be set aside for isolation for those who may become sick or who test positive for COVID-19. Students identified through contact tracing who need to quarantine (possibly exposed but not sick) will be managed on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, students will be able to quarantine in their rooms while following Department of Health guidance. In some cases, students will be relocated to other housing as appropriate. Students who are authorized to live off campus will be subject to the same guidelines and expectations as on-campus students.
We will share more information with students about room draw and housing accommodations in a separate communication.
III. WHAT WILL LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM BE LIKE?
Student life will look different at Middlebury in the fall, but we are committed to finding ways to come together. While we will not be able to organize large-scale events in person, we look forward to working with our Student Government Association, Middlebury College Activities Board, and others on campus to devise small-group, outdoor, and virtual programs that will comply with Vermont Department of Health guidelines and allow for healthy interactions and lively discussion. You will receive more information about dining, fitness, and other activities later in the summer. It is important to note that students living on or off campus will be expected to abide by the same code of conduct and guidelines.
The Middlebury experience also includes participation in a number of structured activities beyond the classroom, including in the creative arts and athletics. This will not be a traditional fall on campus in any respect, including for those activities. In athletics, we are working with our NESCAC peers to develop guidelines for the return to athletics and hope to provide meaningful experiences for our student-athletes. We expect to have more details in the weeks ahead and will share information as it becomes available. We will communicate with you about club and intramural sports once we know more. We are also creating guidelines for how students can continue to engage with the arts and the many other clubs and organizations they enjoy outside the classroom and will share those with you over the summer and upon your arrival.
IV. WHAT WILL THE EXPERIENCE BE FOR PEOPLE WORKING AT MIDDLEBURY?
Faculty will be able to teach remotely if they choose to do so and will follow federal, state, and Middlebury’s classroom safety guidelines. Right now, about a third of our faculty have indicated they will likely choose that option. Faculty teaching in person will abide by all classroom and institution-wide safety protocols. All faculty are eager to continue to engage intensively with students in as many ways as possible. Staff who work on campus will continue to do so with safe work practices for a healthy and productive environment.
Here’s our approach:
Staff Work Protocols
Departmental plans are being developed to determine which staff members will return to work on campus. In accordance with state orders, staff who are able to work from home should expect to continue to do so. Some staff whose work is more easily completed on campus will be invited back to modified office space where they can be physically distanced from others. Those who work closely with students, such as health services staff and residential life staff who enter rooms, will be provided with personal protective equipment and training to maintain safe work practices and a healthy campus environment. Anyone returning to campus must receive approval to do so. We are testing a back-to-campus app that you will learn more about soon.
V. WHAT WILL YOU HAVE TO DO TO STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY AT MIDDLEBURY?
The biggest difference for all of us in the fall semester will be in the daily health regimens that we all must follow. This will be the biggest change, and yet our biggest opportunity, to fulfill our mission of contributing to our community and addressing the world’s most challenging problems.
PPE, Cloth Face Coverings, and Cleaning Protocols
We know that physical distancing, in combination with wearing cloth face coverings, handwashing, and sanitizing work and living spaces, is an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We will require the entire campus community to take an active role in following these measures. We will be instituting regular cleaning protocols for all classrooms and campus spaces. We will provide appropriate personal protective equipment, including masks and face shields, to those who will be in closest contact with students, such as our health services staff and residential life staff. We will provide safety kits with cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer to all faculty, staff, and students returning to campus. Hand sanitizer will be available in all buildings. We will provide training for staff who must work on campus and who have regular interactions with students, including Public Safety, Health Services, Dining Services, and Facilities Services. While we will provide cloth masks for anyone who needs them, we are asking you to partner with us and use your own cloth face coverings when possible.
Health-Related Conduct Policies
A successful fall opening and a healthy campus will depend on our entire community, and your committed partnership. We will be amending our student conduct policies to reflect expectations for students about physical distancing, the back-to-campus app, a health pledge, and other safety measures to protect everyone. Faculty and staff also will be expected to abide by all health policies, sign a health pledge, participate in appropriate testing, and use the back-to-campus app once it is launched. We will be assigning a College employee to serve as a health officer to each building and enhancing our existing online guide for returning to work on campus. While we do not expect this to occur, Vermont health guidelines remind us that students should be prepared to evacuate or stay in lockdown on campus in the unlikely event that we can no longer safely support in-person instruction.
Initially, off-campus travel will be very limited and carefully monitored. All interstate travel will follow Vermont Department of Health guidelines. We are currently developing guidelines for multiple travel circumstances. Campus visitors are expected to be highly restricted as well, including restrictions on outside speakers and visitors to campus facilities such as the Museum of Art, McCullough Student Center, and the athletics center, and to any performing arts events and athletics events, if they occur. We are working closely with civic leaders in the town of Middlebury and Porter Hospital officials to make sure that health and safety guidelines are understood, followed, and enforced for all students, staff, and faculty who travel between campus and businesses in town and the surrounding areas. Health protocols will vary depending on the place from which a person is traveling.
VI. EXPECTATIONS AND APPRECIATION
We want to make expectations clear. This coming semester at Middlebury must be one of discipline and vigilance, without the same open boundaries and without many of the activities we are used to. Still other activities will be conducted in a different way. However, we also know we want to be together—and we know that we can adapt, as we all have adapted in recent months, often in creative ways. We all want to be connected at Middlebury. We can take this opportunity to deepen community through profound care and connection. What we learn from this semester we can take with us into the future.
In listening to those strong voices in our midst who wanted to continue the educational project that is Middlebury, we knew we had to be both highly conscientious and unusually creative in our planning. Thank you for taking on this shared responsibility. This is just the beginning of our work that will require all of us to come together at this historical moment with rigorous care for ourselves and each other, with adaptability and generosity of spirit. But that is, after all, what Middlebury can do well.