By Emma Vallelunga
Next semester won’t be the same. The concerns of college reopening plans during the coronavirus pandemic has caused the administrative staff at SUNY Plattsburgh to make many changes to the 2021 academic calendar. These decisions were made with the health and safety of the entire Plattsburgh community in mind, but nothing about spring 2021 is set in stone.
Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Anne Herzog sent an email to all students addressing the changes last week. First, the college is not scheduling a spring break. Based on recommendations from Student Health and Counseling Center Director Dr. Kathleen Camelo, Herzog said there was too high of a risk, especially with the uncertainty of how COVID-19 will interact with the winter flu season.
“It’s the notion of having people leave campus and go all over the place and come back,” Herzog said. “It was too much of a medical risk.”
Herzog said it wasn’t an easy decision to make for the president’s cabinet, which took them three weeks to finalize, and she understands how it can be difficult to go without that break.
“I know how important spring break is,” Herzog said. “Everybody looks forward to it. For students, it’s a chance for many of them to go home. For faculty, it’s an important week where they can catch up on grading and prepare for additional assignments.”
Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success R. Lizzie Wahab said a few concerned parents have called the office regarding the cancelation of spring break. Wahab said she values speaking with the parents to help them understand the college’s reasoning.
“Often, people calling in are looking at [the situation] from one direction,” Wahab said. “My job is to provide multiple directions so that they can understand the context. I haven’t had a parent that called back and said ‘I disagree with you,’ but the sampling has been very small.”
Wahab said the biggest concern for herself and other SUNY Plattsburgh administrators is making sure students feel safe during the pandemic.
“We’re trying to continue academic progress as safely as possible,” Wahab said. “Being in charge of student life, I cannot go against such a strong reason for canceling spring break, especially when we’re trying to get through this time together so the students have the time they need to do all those wonderful planned activities after their academic year.”
Second, although classes will still begin Jan. 25, the first two weeks of next semester will be fully remote. On-campus students will not be allowed to move into residence halls until Feb. 5. Students traveling from high-risk states, as well as international students traveling from other countries, will be accommodated to return to campus and complete their two-week quarantine during remote instruction.
“We wanted to allow ourselves more time and calmness around the quarantining,” Herzog said. “If students are coming back from high-risk states, where they already have a higher [risk of] infection, or coming from other countries, that all requires staffing in terms of bringing food to them and monitoring them in campus housing. It’s a lot logistically.”
Lastly, final exam week will be moved to May 1-7 with spring commencement tentatively scheduled for May 8. However, celebrating with an in-person ceremony will be contingent on multiple factors, such as the number of active cases at that time, guidance from the Clinton County Health Department, SUNY and New York State. Herzog said it’s too early to tell the fate of graduation under the threat of COVID-19, but SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi will make the final decision — including this semester’s ceremony.
“No decision has been made about commencement, not about December and not about May,” Herzog said. “I’m sure that [Enyedi] will make it at an appropriate point so that people can be informed.”
Herzog also said the other changes to spring 2021 could also change again. It depends on how we all behave in the remaining weeks of the semester.
“We’re all living through a time that has never been [lived] before,” Herzog said. “We don’t have any game-plan to replicate or duplicate that someone has established as working. We feel very fortunate that we’re still doing so well, but that could be eliminated in a very brief period of time if we let up our commitment and our oversight.”
Both Herzog and Wahab said they were confident in the resilience of SUNY Plattsburgh students so far, referring to the college’s first rounds of pool-testing that concluded last week. No positive cases were found from all 1,500 on-campus students. Wahab said she believes many students are abiding by social distancing and face covering policies and is proud to be a part of a community that values health and safety in order to achieve academic success.
“I believe that if the majority of students are doing what we ask them to do, and I feel they are, we’re going to see more of these negative [cases],” Wahab said. “I do believe and pray that their hard work and understanding of a community safety procedure and public health consciousness will keep us at those very low marks until we’re ready to go remote.”