Public health circumstances and officials at the federal, state, or local level may mandate a variety of health restrictions impacting the college’s plans. These changes may range from relatively minor, such as scheduled changes or extended breaks, to significant modifications, like the suspension of in-person classes or residential living. We hope that all members of the community understand the need to be flexible, to have patience with each other, and remain ready to pivot as necessary to ensure a successful spring semester, whether in-person or remote.
Thank you to everyone who was able to attend yesterday’s town hall. We hope it has provided you with additional clarity regarding the spring semester and our plans concerning academics, risk mitigation, health and safety, and the adjusted schedule for residential student arrivals.
This message will review some of the key points from yesterday’s conversation.
Our dashboard tracks local and regional health situations and government policies and details the thresholds and operational impacts which arise from these conditions. It also provides our community with the same information and context which informs our planning decisions. We will be providing additional reporting on campus testing and contact tracing, positive cases, and risk mitigation compliance when the semester begins.
We recognize that following the holiday season, current conditions in both the county and state have not been traveling in the direction we would like to see, though we have recently had a small reduction in statewide positivity rates.
These conditions are reflected in our dashboard alert levels through colors; for example, the county is currently listed as red because positivity rates have been above seven percent, while the statewide rates are still solidly within the orange level thresholds. The overall campus alert level is based on our analysis of all factors and how we see current conditions affecting operations.
The dashboard is updated each Monday, so we encourage you to check each week for the most recent updates. You can view our dashboard here.
Following the spring calendar, seminars for seniors and for Graduate Institute students begin the week of January 25; January freshman and fall freshman classes begin with tutorials on Monday, February 1; and classes for sophomores and juniors begin on February 4. As the alert level is now orange, and we expect it to remain so through the first weeks of the semester, all classes will be online through Friday, February 12. We will assess the situation within Anne Arundel County and the state during this period.
When prevailing conditions bring the campus alert level to yellow (on or after February 12), classes that are scheduled to be in person may begin to meet in person.
Campus Arrival Schedule
Due to the online-only start of the semester for classes, we are also making an adjustment to the original arrival schedule for residential students.
January freshmen will be moved into the dormitories on January 29. All other students, including freshmen who started in the fall, will be able to move onto campus on February 11.
Our January freshmen who plan to live on campus face the additional challenge of quickly acclimating to both the academic and residential aspects of life at St. John’s, especially during these unusual times. Their extra time on campus allows for specific orientation programming to be offered, as well as providing this smaller cohort some additional time to support each other while classes are conducted online.
Students who have extenuating circumstances with regards to their housing arrangements are encouraged to contact the assistant dean.
We are strongly recommending that any students who can get tested before coming to campus do so. This option is not only useful to help reduce any risk to the safety of your household members and anyone you may encounter while traveling, but also for your own knowledge and peace of mind.
Given the large number of asymptomatic carriers, particularly in college-aged student populations, testing is the only reliable way to identify and slow the spread of the disease among those who otherwise feel fine. It will also likely be more comfortable for most students to quarantine and take classes online in their current location if they do receive a positive test result.
We recognize that not every region has reliable, timely, or affordable access to COVID-19 testing, but we encourage tests for those who are able to access them.
Please note that students will still be tested upon arrival on campus and regularly thereafter.
We look forward to seeing many of you back on campus for the spring. Know that regardless of your living arrangements or class preference, your commitment to your education and our community continues to be an inspiration.
I have been both awed and inspired by the level of commitment you have all shown to our common project—the pursuit of a liberal education—during these tumultuous times. You have not allowed distance to distance you from one another. You have come together for serious conversation, taking great care with the texts and with your fellow learners. You have persisted resolutely during resolutely uncertain days. Yet although we have managed to stay connected while remaining apart, we are most wholly a community when we are together. And it is for this reason that the college is working to bring us back together.
This message is intended to walk you through our vision for a spring semester reopening and asks you to complete an important survey.
This past summer, none of us knew what would happen at the nation’s higher education institutions when the fall semester commenced. We have now seen how other institutions have fared, which has been encouraging, and we have significant data about what works to best support the health and welfare of a campus community. We have also been working very closely with colleagues at other colleges and universities, with medical centers and health organizations, and with county and state officials to determine the most prudent path forward.
The college is making comprehensive plans to resume in-person instruction and to bring students back to our residence halls for the spring semester. We will also guarantee that any student who wishes to continue the semester remotely will be able to do so. Yet while we all wish that we could determine unequivocally that we will be able to reconvene on time or at all, it is self-evident that prevailing health conditions may not allow us to do so. There are roughly two months between now and our projected opening, and during this time we want to be as transparent as possible as we track the conditions that will allow us to open, so that you can make the decisions that are best for you.
There are three elements that determine whether a college can operate safely during the current pandemic: 1) the ambient health environment, 2) the health and safety plans of the institution, and 3) the compliance of the community with health guidelines and regulations.
The ambient health environment is the factor we have the least control over. There are many indicators which allow us to measure whether the health environment is a safe one to operate a college within, from rates of infection to the availability of PPE materials. We have created an online dashboard so that you can track week to week the indicators that we are watching, along with explanations of the impact of various health and safety metrics on our plans, both in terms of our prospects for opening and, if and when we open, the impact that the health environment may have on our campus operations. While we hope fervently that conditions move in a direction that will allow us to host students on campus at the beginning of the semester, we do not want anyone to be surprised if the arc of the pandemic turns in a way that would prevent us from doing so. Please visit the dashboard on our website.
We are taking a “maximalist” approach in our health and safety plans. While most colleges seem to have done quite well with periodic, randomized testing of their populations this fall, at St. John’s we will be testing every student, both on-campus residents and off-campus residents, along with every member of our faculty and staff who will be on campus, every single week. And while other schools have allowed students to reside in doubles and triples in their dormitories, St. John’s will ensure that every on-campus resident is housed in a single room, both to reduce the risk of infection and to allow our students a greater measure of privacy during these stressful times. These measures are in addition to many other risk mitigation protocols that will be in place. You may access more complete information about our health and safety plans on our website.
The efficacy of our plan will ultimately rest on the cooperation of all members of our community. We have been very encouraged by the responsible examples set by those Johnnies currently residing in Annapolis and those who have spent time on our campus during the fall. The Safe Polity Compact details our expectations surrounding behavior and our shared obligation toward keeping each other and ourselves as safe as possible.
Assuming the ambient health conditions permit it, we intend to host students on campus in our residence halls and classes, employing our maximalist health and safety plans and counting on each and every member of the community to observe the terms of our pledge so that we can join one another in person as a community of learning.
In order to answer your questions about health and safety, academics, campus life, billing and financial aid, and housing, please see the additional material at our Spring Reopening Plans site:
To make the most effective plans for the spring, it is critical that we know your intentions for the semester; we understand that your plans may change over time. Once you have read this letter and the additional information available on our website, please complete the Spring 2021 Student Intent Form before December 1.
President, St. John’s College, Annapolis