Dear Wheaton Community,
In today’s environment, one thing is certain: uncertainty. As we see, new cases of COVID-19 have risen to unprecedented levels in many parts of the United States and public health guidance continues to evolve both locally and nationally. Yet, our community continues to showcase its resilience, care and support for one another in building a stronger and more connected Wheaton.
You may recall that last week I announced Wheaton’s inclusion in the amicus brief filed in the federal court action related to international students and their ability to stay in the U.S. this fall. I did not expect to be sharing a positive outcome on this with you so quickly. On Tuesday, the federal government agreed to revise its regulations, thus making it possible for international students to stay in the country for now even if their coursework is online. There is no doubt that the collective action to advocate for this change, including so many here at Wheaton, helped drive this reversal. I am proud and thankful for your engagement on this matter. International students are an important part of our community and it was heartening to see this kind of support and action as evidence of that.
I would also like to thank many within the community for your thoughtful questions and continued patience and understanding as we dive deeper into the details for the upcoming semester’s return to campus plans. There is no crystal ball or playbook for a global pandemic, yet there is much planning and implementation taking place daily, especially in response to evolving guidance both locally and nationally. I assure you that we continue to plan for all scenarios, even the unfortunate one that could force us again to move to remote operations. Flexibility and adaptability remain guiding principles for our Reopening Task Force.
In this week’s update, I wanted to share with students and families in particular some more specific information on course delivery, campus activities and athletics, and testing and quarantine scenarios to help prepare you for the fall semester. I know there are many questions to be answered and none of us has experience with the kind of semester it is going to be this fall, but I want to be abundantly clear that life on campus will definitely be very different than what you have seen in the past.
In regards to classes, students can now access information through InsideWheaton or via the Course Schedule to learn the course delivery mode for individual courses. Courses will be noted as “On-campus Instruction” or “Remote Only” for the Fall 2020 semester. Remember that even those classes designated as on-campus instruction will have virtual and online elements so that they can be taken by all students, including those who are not on campus. While most courses have been designated at this point, our offices will continue to update any remaining courses that are still awaiting designations. Students should check their schedule throughout the summer in case there are changes in the course delivery mode for specific courses due to unforeseen circumstances. Detailed instructions for how students can access this information were emailed from Dean Viveiros earlier this week to students’ Wheaton email addresses.
As stated in our Return to Campus Fall Plans, the college’s testing plan includes onboarding testing, symptomatic testing and ongoing and regular testing for everyone on campus. Onboarding testing upon arrival to campus will require each student to undertake a 36-48 hour quarantine in one’s dorm room, with that varied length dependent upon the return of the test results. Testing will then be ongoing for the course of the semester and we are currently planning to conduct testing of all students twice a week and on-campus employees once or twice a week. For any positive tests and close contacts to positive cases, quarantine and isolation procedures and housing will be in place on campus for those who cannot or choose not to return home. The entirety of Everett Hall will be used for quarantine and isolation. Students may be confined to this isolation or quarantine housing for up to 14 days. Current state guidance indicates that even negative test results do not eliminate the need for quarantine. We have arranged for meal delivery to our students in isolation and quarantine. As a result, it is essential that all residential students be on the college meal plan. If you are granted a rare waiver to the meal plan for medical or religious reasons, you will be asked to isolate or quarantine at home or off-campus, including during that initial onboarding testing.
As is outlined in current Massachusetts state travel guidance, any students currently traveling to Massachusetts are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days, except those out-of-state travelers coming from Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Given what we are seeing on the national level, we do not expect relaxation in these restrictions and, depending on the number of students traveling to campus from outside the northeast, we may not be able to accommodate everyone in our allotted quarantine space. As our housing numbers are finalized over the next few weeks we will have a better picture of how we might work with students who must be quarantined under this guidance. Given this extreme uncertainty, if this situation applies to you then one option to consider is to study remotely for the semester, as we have seen many other students already choose to do so. The guidance on travel and quarantine is evolving rapidly and we will strive to keep you informed on these important guidelines from the state.
Athletics and Club Sports
Yesterday, Director of Athletics and Recreation Gavin Viano announced that Wheaton will not be competing against other institutions in traditional intercollegiate athletics during the fall of 2020. All varsity athletics and club sports competition and travel for the fall have been cancelled. Just this afternoon, the presidents of all eleven schools in our athletic conference, the NEWMAC, voted unanimously to suspend conference play until January 1, 2021. We join many other conferences in making this decision, with the health and safety of our communities as the guiding principle. No decision has been made regarding winter or spring seasons at this time, however it has been decided by the conference that competition will not begin until at least January 1, 2021. Depending on NCAA and NEWMAC decisions on fall sports, there may be a possibility for fall teams to compete in the spring of 2021. We will continue to work with our conference partners and the NCAA on these efforts and update our community as the plans evolve.
Changing Your Fall Residency Status
As more information is becoming available about campus life and classes in the Fall semester, and in the context of the national picture related to COVID-19, we have received a growing number of requests from students to switch from being on-campus to studying remotely. We will continue to provide you flexibility in terms of the timeline for making that decision, but if you are leaning toward studying remotely it would greatly help our planning processes if you would indicate that within the next five to seven days. For anyone looking to make this change, please utilize this Fall Semester Status Change form. If you have any questions about how your student status may affect your billing, please contact Student Financial Services at firstname.lastname@example.org. The final room assignment process will begin next week and those students choosing to remain on campus will be notified of their housing assignments soon thereafter.
While what I have outlined above does not capture every aspect of our plan, it should provide you with some confidence in the thorough and comprehensive nature we are approaching every aspect of the coming semester. I encourage you to continue to check and review the full details of our plan on the return to campus plans website.
We understand that living on campus this fall may not be appealing to everyone given all the adjustments that will be required, thus I’m thankful that our course delivery model will enable every Wheaton student to continue their studies in an academically enriching manner from anywhere. We are committed to keeping students connected to each other and to our broader community no matter what mode of study they choose. While these are certainly challenging times, the experience of the last few months provides strong evidence that we can stay connected and that we can support each other throughout the fall semester no matter what comes our way.
Wishing you a healthy and safe weekend,