In-person classes will resume at state colleges this fall, with mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements still in effect, officials said Monday.
The announcement came at Gateway Community College on Monday, where leaders from colleges and universities in Connecticut joined Gov. Ned Lamont to discuss what campus life will look like this upcoming academic year.
“I think the message here today is we’re open for business, come back,” Lamont said. “It’s going to be an amazing summer and a great fall.”
“This past year, our digital doors have remained open, and while it is not the same as being on-site, we continue to engage students, provide high levels of instruction and make on-demand services available, and we are proud of the work we’ve done,” said William Brown, chief executive officer at Gateway Community College. “Now as we prepare to reopen our physical doors, we are ready to begin a new era, with a new normal, that may look a little different, but one that will restore the critical college experience, that requires human interaction, discourse and the sharing of intellectual and cultural experiences.”
Southern Connecticut State University President Joe Bertolino explained that the university is starting a gradual reopening process on June 1 and plans to “commence full operations on the ground” by Aug. 1. He said that although summer courses will be virtual at Southern, there will be some one-day, in-person new student orientations and summer programs.
Bertolino added that the university anticipates having faculty and staff resume in-person teaching this fall, and more than 70% of the courses are currently scheduled to be offered either in-person or hybrid. The remainder will be online — which he said is 10% more than the number of online offerings the university had pre-COVID.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity that this presents for our students,” Bertolino said, adding that students in classrooms will also be separated by three feet of space rather than six. “Our goal of course is always to maintain the safety of our campus community. That is our No. 1 priority, and therefore social distancing and mask-wearing will continue to be the order of the day.”
Additionally, at Southern, residence halls have been open all year, and about 50% to 60% of the beds were occupied, according to Bertolino. He said the university is making double occupancies into singles for the fall and will continue to follow necessary COVID regulations.
“We’ve been doing it, and we’re ready to expand,” Bertolino said. “So if students want to come to any of our campuses and live in residence halls, we’ll have space for them.”
Janice Palmer, a spokesperson for Central Connecticut State University, said Central is also planning to have more students on campus this fall and expects to have 90% of its classes in classrooms, calling it “a very near-normal semester.”
Judy Olian, Quinnipiac University president, said the university was able to offer a full “on the ground” experience this academic year, with 10% of its students opting to continue learning remotely. She explained that the university expects to have in-person learning in the fall as well and plans to use zoom and other technology “where it makes sense.”
Students will also be allowed to visit each other in the residence halls and dining halls, and services will return to normal capacity, Olian said. Social gatherings and activities will also have fewer restrictions and the athletic teams will have spectators.
“Of course we’re following the state guidelines in the fall. If masks and social distancing is still called for, of course, we will follow the Department of Public Health,” Olian said, adding that these plans will also depend on the level of vaccinations in the Quinnipiac community and surrounding areas. “I strongly … encourage vaccinations. Expecting everyone, except those with medical vulnerabilities, to be vaccinated. Then we can count on much closer to normalcy.”
Yale requiring students to get vaccinated
Yale and Wesleyan universities will require students to get vaccinated before returning in the fall, but many other schools haven’t made a decision yet, and the governor wants to wait to see if it will be necessary.
Brown said during Monday’s press conference that the COVID-19 vaccines will not be required for students at the community colleges, but he encouraged students to get vaccinated.
He said officials are considering an issue that other colleges and universities are discussing in regard to the vaccine being approved under emergency authorization.
“I want everybody to get vaccinated. I want all the staff to get vaccinated, I want all the students to get vaccinated,” Lamont said on Monday. “I’m going to bring the mobile vaccination vans in, I want you to tell your friends and friends of friends, come get vaccinated. And we’ll find out maybe later in the year whether that’s enough, and we’ll be able to make some determinations later.”
Yale announced Monday that it would require students to be vaccinated in the fall. Wesleyan made a similar announcement last week.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have worked together as a community to develop and follow measures to promote the health and safety of our colleagues, families, and friends,” Yale President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel said in a letter to the campus community. “Now we share the opportunity and the responsibility to take the next important step toward putting the pandemic behind us.”
Students planning to study and work on campus this summer are also expected to get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to them. University officials said students on campus or who live in the New Haven area can make vaccine appointments by following information recently sent out to students about vaccine clinics or through Yale’s COVID-19 Vaccine Program website.
Those who are in the area should check with local officials about vaccine availability.
“We understand that a small number of students may not be able to obtain vaccination appointments before they return to campus, and we are making provisions to vaccinate them on arrival,” Salovey and Strobel said. “We also will make reasonable accommodations for medical and religious exemptions from vaccination.”
The university will send out more information about how students will need to document their vaccination and exemptions soon. Officials also said that they are considering whether to make getting vaccinated a requirement for faculty and staff this fall and expect to make a decision by June.