Lancaster County’s two largest colleges say they believe they're in compliance with new state guidelines after the Pennsylvania Department of Education this week urged colleges and universities statewide to conduct classes virtually “to the maximum extent feasible” and consider delaying the return of students to campus for the spring semester.
Those two actions, Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said in a news release Wednesday, could combat the “alarming increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,” which “are expected to worsen in January at a time when students normally return to campus.”
As for how long colleges and universities should hold off on welcoming students back, Education Department spokeswoman Kendall Alexander said the state wants “everyone to make judgments based on the data we are seeing and to work to wait to return until we are in a more manageable position across the state.”
According to spokespeople for both Millersville University and Franklin & Marshall College, their spring plans already considered these factors and align with the latest messaging.
“We took the health and safety of our campus community into consideration when making our plans for the spring semester,” Millersville University spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said. “We believe we are in compliance with the new recommendations from PDE.”
Millersville, the county’s lone public university and largest higher education institution with about 7,700 total students, has delayed the start of its spring semester to Jan. 20, 2021. Like the fall semester, about 80% of classes will be offered remotely in the spring, Kacskos said.
The university will request students quarantine for 10 days prior to returning to campus and require students living in residence halls to test negative for COVID-19, she said. Students will be encouraged to participate in random surveillance testing during the semester.
Other mitigation strategies include erasing the traditional spring break from the calendar and, instead, sprinkling periodic days off throughout the term.
At F&M, all students are off in January except those who take the option to participate in a fully remote January term. The spring semester, which will include both in-person and remote classes, will start Feb. 1, 2021.
“In our planning for this year, we had already pushed the start of the spring semester back from the usual mid-January date to Feb. 1 in anticipation of increased challenges with infection rates over the winter months,” college spokesman Pete Durantine said. “This planning anticipated such a recommendation from PDE and is consistent with it.”
The Lancaster private college will continue to test students regularly — once upon their return to campus and twice a week thereafter — in the spring.
Etown, LBC and Thaddeus Stevens
The smaller Elizabethtown College and Lancaster Bible College have also delayed the start of the spring semester, but both plan to offer in-person classes.
College spokeswoman Keri Straub said Elizabethtown is reviewing the state’s latest recommendations and continues to evaluate its COVID-19 response planning for “multiple scenarios” as the pandemic evolves.
We plan to operate with in-person instruction but, as always, we will update this intention based on further recommendations or requirements to comply with local, state and national authorities," said Lancaster Bible College President Thomas L. Kiedis.
Ann Valuch, spokeswoman for Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, said the technical school plans to use a hybrid model with both in-person and remote classes.