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Claremont Colleges hopeful to bring students back, but it’s complicated

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

With Los Angeles County COVID-19 infection, positivity and hospitalization rates continuing their alarming climb, all but one of the Claremont Colleges have abandoned previous hopeful plans to bring some students back for on-campus instruction in the spring.

Six of the seven schools will continue with remote learning for now, with the hope that the numbers will fall enough as spring unfolds as to allow some students on campuses.

The only holdout is Harvey Mudd College, which says it will wait and see what the COVID-19 numbers do over the next few weeks before making a decision.

Harvey Mudd is due to begin its spring session on January 25. President Maria Klawe told the COURIER it “will not decide plans until January.” The College’s final “go-no-go” date to inform students if it will be open for students in residence will be Jan. 11. Ms. Klawe posted this update on HMC’s website on October 20:

“While we are hopeful that Los Angeles County’s numbers will decline, we face the continued challenge that we are still in California’s purple tier. As of last week, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) is only allowing waivers for pre-K through second grade school students to open in person and stated that we will receive an announcement in mid-November about whether institutes of higher education in the county will be allowed to have students in residence. Even then, the LACDPH’s current guidance, which we do not expect to change, limits us to housing students living on campus in singles.

“Therefore, in preparation of bringing back a limited number of students to campus, our staff members have been closely monitoring what has been working at other colleges and universities in terms of keeping their communities safe. As such, we will be adding new guidelines to our Stay Safe at Mudd program, including mandatory flu shots as well as the addition of twice weekly COVID-19 testing for students in residence (including those living at the Arrow Vista Apartments) and any faculty/staff coming to campus on a regular basis. Similar to our past communications, all students in residence will be required to adhere to these guidelines. Please know that the majority of the curriculum will remain remote.”

For Harvey Mudd College updates, go to https://www.hmc.edu/coronavirus-information/.

Claremont Graduate University is planning on continuing its “online flex” approach in the spring. “Which means that our courses are largely online and under special circumstances we allow some select students access to assets on campus like an art studio for example,” said Claremont Graduate University President Len Jessup.

“We surveyed our students and they are generally enjoying the online courses and our use of Canvas as our learning management system, although they are looking forward to getting back on campus as soon as it is safe,” he added.

Despite the COVID-related upheaval, fall enrollment “held strong,” Mr. Jessup said. “We await instructions from the L.A. County Dept of Public Health and we are looking forward to getting back on campus full time once the county says we are allowed to do so.”

Over at Pomona College, the news is much the same.

“If we receive approval from the county, Pomona plans to return a portion of student population to campus this spring, with expectations for a full return in fall,” said Pomona College Assistant Vice President, Communications Mark Kendall. “Under this responsible, phased approach, students returning for spring would need to meet public health guidelines such as wearing face coverings and physical distancing to promote safety. We have been consulting with our community on which groups of students would be prioritized for spring return. Online instruction would continue, and no student would be required to return to campus for spring.”

Pomona posts its COVID-related updates here: https://www.pomona.edu/coronavirus/faq.

Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver announced November 24 that “Given the recent acceleration in new cases in the region, and the likelihood of a continued surge due to the holidays, LACDPH does not plan to loosen restrictions on [institutions of higher education] anytime in the near future. They have indicated that case levels will need to decrease dramatically in order to consider any changes in the current public health guidance for colleges and universities.

“As I indicated previously, it was my intention to inform the Pitzer community of our plans for the spring semester by the middle of December. As of today, it seems extremely unlikely that we will be able to return students to campus and our best and safest course of action is to plan for a remote spring semester.”

Mr. Oliver’s updates can be found here: https://www.pitzer.edu/president/campus-update-from-president-oliver/.

Claremont McKenna College President Hiram E. Chodosh announced Wednesday the school will also not be back to on-campus learning when it begins its spring semester.

“We are disappointed that we cannot be together to start the spring semester,” he said in a release posted on CMC’s website. “However, when conditions and public authorities allow us to be back, we are ready to return. Throughout the fall, we built even stronger health and safety capabilities into our CMC Returns campus plan, including reduced density, twice-a-week testing, prompt results, on-site medical support, and the CMC student agreement to ensure compliance with public safety protocols. We are optimistically tracking the accelerated availability of both vaccines and rapid testing and their impact on our ability to bring students back to campus as soon as possible

“We also have made significant progress in our recent, concerted advocacy with state and county leadership. Specifically, L.A. County may introduce a limited pilot reopening program that would be available to 10 schools, with a cap of 500 students per school permitted to reside on campus in a restrictive ‘bubble-like’ environment. If this pilot program launches, CMC will immediately submit an application.

“Alternatively, if transmission rates improve unexpectedly and advance the county into the red (substantial) tier, higher education could be allowed to open more broadly. Such extraordinary circumstances might permit us to reopen later in spring with the strong health and safety commitments we have already implemented.”

To see the latest from CMC, go to https://cmc-returns.cmc.edu.

Scripps College President Lara Tiedens announced this week the acclaimed liberal arts college will continue to operate remotely in the spring.

“The public health environment in Los Angeles County and the nation has deteriorated significantly over the past month, with steady increases in positive cases and hospitalizations exceeding previous records,” Ms. Tiedens said in a December 8 press release. “Holiday-related travel and gatherings are expected to contribute to additional spikes in the coming weeks, prompting L A  County officials to reinstate modified stay-at-home orders for the rest of the month. Consistent with their warnings, we urge everyone in the Scripps community to stay safe by staying home and away from others as much as possible.

“In response to these alarming conditions, the LA County Department of Public Health has indicated that there is little possibility institutions of higher education will be permitted to resume in-person operations in January.”

Ms. Tiedens went to on say the school will continue to work toward the goal of allowing students to return to campus for the second half of the spring semester, possibly in mid-March, by when it’s projected conditions may improve. All plans are of course subject to L.A. County approval.

Updates on Scripps’ plans can be found at https://www.scrippscollege.edu/scripps-strong/.

 

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