Get the latest on our spring planning.
July 31, 2020
Dear Students and Families,
I write to you with heartbreaking news. Over the past several months we have been working tirelessly to prepare to welcome our St. John’s College family back to in-person classes. We have been grateful for the patience, flexibility, and grace shown throughout the community as we have worked to navigate an ever-changing public health landscape locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. As we have shared from the beginning, the health and wellbeing of our community remains the single most important driver in our decision-making. With this as our foundation, I am writing today to share that, based on the current public health conditions, we are changing our plans for the fall semester: we will not be able to house students on campus and are moving exclusively to remote learning for the fall semester. It is our plan and intention to welcome students on campus for the spring semester and to return to in-person learning at that juncture; but the current public health situation will not allow us to convene on campus this fall.
When the decision to return to in-person classes was announced in late June, cases in Maryland and throughout much of the country were declining. Restrictions on gatherings, restaurants, and activities were relaxed as Maryland moved into Phase II; testing was growing more widespread, with results available in 36-48 hours; and travel restrictions into and out of the state had been lifted. While cases in Maryland and nationally were being reported across people of all ages, the percentage of cases in people aged 20-30 was relatively low. The curve of the pandemic seemed to be moving in a hopeful direction.
As I write to you today, conditions have changed. In the past seven days the state of Maryland has announced restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings, travel restrictions into Maryland from several states have been imposed, and COVID-19 test results are now taking 5-7 days—or longer. We are a small, tight knit community, and the foundation of our health and wellness plan has always been the availability of rapid and regular testing. Given that such testing is no longer readily available in Maryland, we currently do not have confidence that we can maintain the systematic testing protocol necessary to bring our students back to campus.
The pandemic has proven dynamic and fluid, changing in ways that pose additional challenges to college communities. People under the age of 40 now account for more than 55% of new cases in Maryland, and infection rates for people under the age of 35 are 93% higher than people age 35 and older. In just the last few weeks many schools in our region, including Georgetown University, George Washington University, Dickinson College, Lafayette College, and American University have moved to exclusively online classes for the fall, as has our sister campus in Santa Fe as part of this collegewide decision.
As we examined our plans for the return to in-person classes in the context of the evolving public health conditions, we determined that while this was an extraordinarily difficult choice, it is the right one for now. We remain steadfast in our commitment to sustaining an online learning environment where you will be able to engage with other members of the Polity. We will still exchange ideas with passion and integrity. And though we are separated by mountains, by oceans, and by this pandemic, our Polity will still hold. We must all work together to become our most courageous and compassionate selves, and to support each other in the face of an uncertain future. Beginning with convocation on August 26, many of our college traditions will continue throughout the fall semester. The academic calendar will remain unchanged, with both Graduate Institute and undergraduate classes beginning on August 27.
From the beginning of our planning for the fall, we knew that public health conditions might necessitate a shift in our planning. As a result, tutors have been working to enhance online classes, exploring technology to improve the use of shared whiteboards, preparing new videos of laboratory practica for better discussions about the phenomena, and gaining additional experience with online platforms. While many colleges are forced to resort to pre-recorded online lectures, St. John’s is committed to every class as a small group discussion. The college is well situated to lead classes online for an extended period. And we will continue our planning for an in-person spring semester in January as we monitor public health conditions and location regulations.
We will send additional information on Tuesday, August 4, with details regarding the academic program, housing, student life, international student education, and other key aspects of the semester to come. Additional information for Graduate Institute students will come from the office of the Graduate Institute. We understand that you will need some time to think about this change and how it may influence your plans for the fall, and we will allow you flexibility to make the decisions that are best for you. To help answer your questions and to address your concerns, we will be hosting an online Town Hall next week. Additional information will be shared as the beginning of the semester approaches and details are finalized.
For students faced with extraordinary hardships related to their living situation this fall—especially international students—we encourage you to contact the assistant dean, Mr. Dugan.
I know how difficult this news is to receive. None of us want the world to be this way right now. We remain physically separated only because of circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that are grave, but also transient. I, along with our tutors and staff, will not rest and will not relent until we are able to be back together in person.
You will hear from us again soon.
Pano Kanelos, President