I am pleased to write with the promised overview of plans for Spring Semester 2021. Because the spring semester is still roughly three months away, these plans are necessarily contingent upon future conditions and governmental restrictions, but we want to share our intentions prior to spring registration and other decisions on your plate about the semester to come.
First, let me express my ongoing appreciation for the outstanding job that our readiness and contact outreach teams have done since summer. The plan outlined below, which reflects the original Fall Flex Plan with important modifications I will highlight, reflects an exceptional distillation of insights and lessons from other experts and institutions in and beyond New Jersey. Colleges and universities approached the fall semester in various ways, providing a laboratory for what works or does not in testing, contact tracing, residential accommodations, instruction, campus expectations, student activities, and other operations. Synthesis of this wisdom and experience undergirds our Spring Flex plan.
The Spring Flex plan also reflects several guiding principles for the college’s decision-making and action. By these, TCNJ will:
- implement and enforce protocol to reduce virus transmission through required face coverings, physical distancing, daily self-health checks, responsible hygiene practices, and regular testing.
- recognize that even while following health and safety precautions, risks remain, which must be balanced with the benefits of community socialization and access to education.
- prioritize and support academic quality, no matter how courses are delivered.
- closely monitor federal and state guidance, best practices for higher education, and conditions of COVID-19 on campus and in the surrounding community to responsibly adjust the plan.
In the remainder of this message I outline key topics in the spring plan, beginning with information on community expectations. You will find detail on these and other areas on the Spring Flex website, which we will regularly update in coming weeks. I shall write additionally prior to the start of spring semester to highlight major plan modifications or when there is more news to share.
Perhaps the most profound lesson from the fall is this: plans work only when the community makes them work. All members of our community must take to heart and act accordingly given two truisms—that we are near-certain to have cases of COVID-19 on campus in spring, and that we can minimize the number, spread and implications of these cases by following the protocol and policies that TCNJ is putting into place.
Nothing is more critical for safeguarding a spring semester with some in-person components, a desire expressed by many in our community. I am confident that with unity of commitment we will join others as a national exemplar for higher education pandemic response.
To achieve this vision, it is essential that we behave to minimize virus spread and protect one another. Campus community members who have not already completed the online COVID-19 training modules reviewing campus policies, protocol, and expectations must do so. This training includes “Roscoe’s Pledge,” the set of protective behaviors for anyone who comes to the TCNJ campus.
Let me emphasize that presence on campus this spring will be a privilege and not a right. Pursuant to our interim Campus Health and Safety Policy, we welcome all who seek the campus experience and understand the need for and will abide by necessary health and safety protocol. Those who cannot follow the terms by which persons are permitted on campus should choose a remote-only semester. Anyone who willfully or repeatedly violates our campus safety rules will lose the privilege of being on campus. To protect the campus community, the college reserves the right in certain circumstances to revoke the privilege on an interim basis, even during a period in which a conduct violation review is in process.
The spring semester will start one week later than originally scheduled, with classes beginning on Monday, February 1, and exams ending May 18. Plans for the Class of 2021 commencement will be shared later in the spring. Following best practices and public health guidance, we will replace the weeklong spring break with two single days off during the semester, Thursday, March 18 and Tuesday, March 30. We plan to keep the residence halls open and meal plans available through the semester.
Consistent with the original Fall Flex plan, spring semester instruction will entail two types of courses: 1) Flex courses, which combine in-person and remote instruction; and 2) fully remote courses. There will be no “in-person only” courses.
Addressing a possible confusion from the fall plan, let me clarify that although Flex courses offer an in-person component, students may take Flex courses fully remotely if they choose to do so. If during the course of the semester, a student who has been taking a Flex course remotely wishes to attend this Flex class in person, they may do so with notification to the faculty member. Similarly, a student who has been participating in person in a Flex course may switch to remote instruction in the Flex course during the semester, with notification to the faculty member.
Consistent with physical distancing rules and health and safety standards, we will limit the number and density of students in an in-person classroom. This may require faculty to establish a rotating schedule by which enrolled students take turns attending in person and remotely.
Residential Accommodations and Dining
One of the key lessons from the fall experience on other campuses is the need to reserve sufficient isolation spaces for on-campus students who test positive for the virus and quarantine spaces for those in close contact with them. We will reserve two of our residence halls for these purposes.
Residential students will live in single occupancy rooms. Traditional doubles will become singles and suite style units with five or six residents will house three or four residents, respectively. Together with isolation and quarantine spaces, these changes reduce residence hall occupancy by approximately 1,700 beds, or 44 percent of capacity.
Housing applications will be available to all matriculated and registered undergraduate students. Priority consideration will be provided to first-year students, seniors, students in programs that require housing, out-of-state students, and students with housing insecurity or accessibility issues where on-campus housing was deemed necessary. We will provide additional consideration for students who need to be on campus for in-person classes or athletic participation.
Students will hear shortly via email from Residential Education and Housing with information and instructions on housing applications, move-in protocol and spring housing options and procedures. To the extent practicable, we will attempt to place applicants for spring housing who had been assigned a room for the fall semester in that same room. Housing applications and information are available on the MyHousing website.
Together with our Sodexo partners, Dining Services will offer reduced-capacity dining options, reinvented serving stations, and additional to-go options. All dining locations except for Traditions and the School of Education Café will reopen for the spring semester with service hours modified to accommodate use. Consistent with current state and CDC guidelines for inside dining, the Atrium at Eickhoff and all retail dining locations will offer limited seating.
Student Support Services and Activities
TCNJ will continue to offer by remote appointment the full spectrum of student support services, including academic advising and office hour appointments. The Spring Flex website will outline specific availability closer to the start of the spring semester.
We look forward to the presence of more students on campus in spring semester. To minimize virus transmission with greater densities, however, TCNJ will continue to limit in-person, indoor activities, including club and organization meetings. The Office of Student Involvement will work with student groups to deliver meaningful remote connections and activities through the spring.
A major change from the fall semester plan is TCNJ’s spring intentions for varsity athletics. In alignment with and pending decisions from the New Jersey Athletic Conference, TCNJ plans to participate in winter and spring varsity sports. Varsity athletes will hear directly from the Department of Athletics with information on eligibility, testing protocol, training, and team schedules, including practice sessions, in coming weeks. The college is exploring competitive opportunities for fall sports during the spring semester. Information will be forthcoming. Per NCAA Division III guidance, testing protocol for varsity athletes may vary from that of other students.
Health and Safety Protocol
A key lesson from public health experience this fall is the importance of regular testing to curb community spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, although many protocol for the Fall Flex plan remain intact, the Spring Flex plan has changed significantly with respect to testing.
Student Health Services will test students who are symptomatic and close contacts of individuals who tested positive or are symptomatic. Employees exhibiting virus symptoms are instructed to not come to campus and to visit their health care provider for COVID-19 testing.
All residential students and students who come to campus for class, work, or other activity where they will come into contact with members of the community, will be required to:
- provide a negative diagnostic COVID-19 test collected within seven days prior to move-in or spring semester activity on campus.
- have on-campus, mandatory weekly rapid diagnostic testing administered by a third-party vendor engaged by the college. Varsity athletes in high-contact indoor sports—basketball and wrestling have already been identified—will be tested per NCAA rules (currently, three times per week during competition weeks). The college will waive testing only for students or employees who are exclusively taking courses or working from home and not participating in person in any college related activities (e.g., class trips, internships), using campus facilities (e.g., the Fitness Center), or participating in clinical placements or student teaching. The college is exploring possible billing of students’ insurance companies, but in any event, the college would pay the vendor for any unreimbursed costs of the tests.
- participate in, cooperate with, and be accessible to contact tracing efforts organized by the college if they test positive or come into close contact with someone who tests positive.
In addition, all residential students will be required to:
- provide documentation of a seasonal flu vaccine prior to move-in. Other students are strongly encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccine as well.
Discussions are underway to arrange a COVID-19 protocol for employees similar to the one that applies to students.
Employee Return to Campus
All faculty and staff, regardless of presence on campus, are required to review the Return to Campus Guidebook, adhere to its policies and guidelines, and complete the online COVID-19 training modules reviewing campus policies, protocol, and expectations (if not already completed).
Continuing our policy from fall 2020, pursuant to direction from supervisors and members of cabinet, employees will either complete work from home, perform a staggered schedule of at-home and on-campus work with other departmental employees, or conduct their work in person and on-campus on a regular or modified schedule. Employees will hear in coming weeks from department supervisors about their spring work schedules. Staff should speak with their supervisors about extenuating circumstances that prevent on-campus work if assigned. Pursuant to the Flexible Work Arrangement Policy, faculty members (full time, adjunct, temporary, or other) in consultation with their department chair and dean may arrange to perform their faculty duties through remote work in spring 2021.
The Spring Flex plan reflects our desire for balance and accommodation. We recognize that there are many reasons why members of our community might not be ready to return to campus. In developing this Spring Flex plan, we are attempting to accommodate as many needs for remote learning and work as possible. We recognize, too, that there are many who are eager to come to campus. The plans outlined above reflect this, as do the health and safety rules that reduce the risk of coming together in the COVID-19 era.
What a disconcerting time we are in that I write of rules and constraints rather than freedoms and wants. I join you in yearning for a time before long when we can gather again as a community beyond Zoom. The coming three months will no doubt bring more issues and ideas to which we will respond. Thank you in the meantime and once again for your input, understanding, and commitment to TCNJ. These mean so much to me and all, and I look forward to joining many of you on campus this coming spring.
With much anticipation,
Kathryn A. Foster