Castleton University has revised its plans for the fall semester, offering students to live on campus and get the college experience but moving virtually all instruction to online courses.
The announcement was made earlier this month in a posting to the Castleton website.
Interim President Jonathan Spiro acknowledged that Vermont has done well in flattening the COVID-19 curve.
“However, the public health situation in the rest of the country has dictated that we move nearly all of our courses online for the fall semester. Throughout the fall, we will look for opportunities to safely bring people together for meaningful campus experiences, while following state and federal safety guidelines,” Spiro said in a statement.
Students are not required to live in a Castleton dormitory for the 2020-21 academic year, but it’s an option available to them.
James Lambert, university representative, said the revised plan gives greater flexibility to students and their families who can choose where they want to live but get the same education whether the student is living on campus or not.
A student’s education can also continue without interruption if the student needs to self-quarantine based on where they live or if the student has contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
“It also positions us better if there were to be another stay-at-home order by the state. Our courses are already online which is a big benefit,” he said.
Since the change to Castleton’s plan was announced in mid-July, Lambert said the “vast majority” of students have stuck with their housing contract. They have until Aug. 5 to make a final decision.
“We really don’t know what to expect. Usually, we’re able to project these sorts of things based off past data in similar years but there’s just no point of reference for something like this,” Lambert said.
According to Lambert, the only classes that will be face-to-face are not even what many would consider a “class.” As an example, he pointed toward a practicum for nursing students that require them to spend time working in a hospital or law students who need to spend some hours working for a law firm.
In June, Castleton officials announced a different plan, although some elements remain unchanged. On-campus instruction was expected to be part of the fall semester although there were questions about whether class sizes would need to be reduced to allow for social distancing and other health and safety concerns.
Castleton officials also adjusted the beginning and end of the fall semester so that students would not have to return to campus after the Thanksgiving break. Only finals, which would be taken remotely, would need to be completed in December, reducing the odds that a student who went home for the holiday to a state with a higher rate of COVID than Vermont would return with an infection.
Under the new plan, the altered semester dates and the campus housing remains but classrooms will remain empty.
Lambert said that while Castleton is part of the Vermont State Colleges System, pandemic response plans were left to individual schools.
He expressed appreciation for faculty who acted quickly to make plans for remote instruction but pointed out many of them had to act with even less notice in March when the state directed schools to switch to online methods of teaching.
“They did a great job with that but now they have a lot more time to make that transition,” he said.
For the coming semester, students who choose to live in one of Castleton’s residence halls must sign a pledge to observe “robust social-distancing protocols.”
Students, whether they live on campus or not, will have access to many of the campus services such as the Academic Support Center, Wellness Center and Career Services.
Lambert said university officials are still waiting for guidelines from the state about athletics on campus.
University officials are determined to “find opportunities to bring people together,” Lambert said, although the full range of student and campus activities will look different for the coming semester.
With changes happening quickly and still developing, administrators, faculty and staff have to be ready to resume classes in about three weeks.
“We’re continuing to plan. Things are coming together. We have an expanded emergency management team that has broken off into, I think, 16 subcommittees, who are all working on different aspects. A majority of people are working on this stuff every day. We’ll be ready,” he said.