College Outlines Spring 2021 Possibilities Amid Ongoing Pandemic

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President Ensign’s six primary categories of possible spring 2021 plans. Infographic courtesy of Rebecca Agababian ‘21.

Rebecca Agababian '21, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Faculty gathered via Zoom on Tuesday, Oct. 20 to discuss President Margee Ensign’s proposed scenarios for the spring 2021 semester in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Ensign outlined six main possibilities, with various contingencies and variations within each option. On one end of the spectrum was the possibility of continuing with a completely remote spring semester. Conversely, the other extreme included inviting all students back to campus. In between these two scenarios lay four other variations, all of which included bringing students back in some capacity. 

One of these included inviting just half of the student population back to campus while the other half continued to learn remotely for the entire semester. Ensign also discussed inviting two class years back for just the first half of the semester and then switching halfway through. Another plan included bringing two class years back for the first half and then, if measures to contain the virus appeared to be under control, invite the second half of the student body to join them for the last seven weeks of the semester. In discussing these possible options, Ensign did not specify exactly which class years she would invite back in each scenario. Lastly, the president also mentioned the possibility of delaying the start of the spring semester to aid in avoiding the coronavirus’ overlap with flu season. Ensign hopes to make a final decision on the spring 2021 semester in the first week of November.

Campus capacity to house students is another factor in the college’s decision. In a call with The Dickinsonian, George Stroud, vice president for student life and dean of students, said that administration was working on multiple plans for different scenarios in terms of housing. 

“We are pretty confident that whichever plan that we have we will have isolation space in place,” said Stroud. “The challenge is trying to predict how many people will actually show up depending on which scenario we put in place, and so we’re making those estimates now,” said Stroud, adding that “before we make a decision, we will make sure there is enough quarantine and isolation space carved out in order to accommodate the students.”

Throughout Tuesday’s discussion, Ensign and Stroud continuously reiterated that if invited back, there would still be students who would choose not to return to campus. They noted that instruction would be provided to them regardless of whether the class met in-person at any point. However, with this discussion came the question of the best modality for class instruction, including whether to offer classes remotely, via a hybrid method of instruction, or make in-person classes available.

In an interview with The Dickinsonian, regarding preparations for students potentially returning, Ensign also discussed the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s phone application that can be helpful with COVID tracing. The application, COVID Alert PA, notifies anyone whose phone was next to another person’s phone who tested positive for more than 15 minutes of their possible exposure to COVID-19. However, “for it to be more effective, everyone’s gotta sign up,” Ensign said. She also noted that the school has gained access to six national labs and initiatives for COVID-19 testing along with hiring a contact tracer for the year.

Lastly, Ensign spoke about the Carlisle Community Action Network’s (CAN) masking initiative, in which posters, banners, and masks have been to advertise the initiative’s goal to “shop safely, learn safely.” 

Ensign said that businesses following health and safety guidelines will be featured on a list of places that students will be able to go. “So we’re not going to shame people in town for not wearing them, but we are going to support people who are part of this initiative,” Ensign said. “So it’s not just the testing and tracing. People actually have to follow the guidelines religiously. And that’s why we’ve been supporting and helping develop this initiative,” Ensign added. 

“For people to return safely here, whoever is on campus, we’re not restricting you from the community, but we need to make sure the community itself is safe and following all the public health guidelines,” Ensign added.