Oct 22: Spring Semester Planning, Return to Campus Handbook and Winter Break
Dear Merrimack College Community -
We are now five weeks away from Thanksgiving and through the majority of the Fall semester which means it is time to begin thinking about the Spring 2021 semester, residential move-in, remote learning, the start of classes and graduation.
I would like to express my most sincere appreciation for all of your efforts this semester as the new policies and procedures that we all adopted were instrumental in keeping the College safe and open to support the education of our students and their continued pursuit of knowledge and study in what would be considered a most unusual college semester. This moment in time is not easy and I am proud and grateful for your contributions, your dedication to ensure the safety of our campus community, as well as for the many ways you exhibited care and support to one another during this challenging time. This has been a herculean effort by all and I wish that I could tell you today that COVID-19 was over and that things were going back to normal. But it is not over, and things are not going back to normal any time soon.
However, the good news is that we now know how to operate a college during a pandemic as you all have participated in this semester. From the faculty to the administrative assistants, the police and facilities folks, through senior staff, athletics and student life – the hard work and dedication made by all this semester is indicative as to what is possible when we work together during challenging times. Congratulations on your hard work and fortitude to get through this.
I would be remiss not to acknowledge that we did experience some difficult days along the way, and some missteps that challenged us. But, we had many more good days than bad and many more bright moments that helped alleviate the stress of the challenges. What is most important to acknowledge is that through our aggressive testing and contact tracing protocols, we were able to quickly contain problems associated with the COVID-19 virus with minimal disruption to our campus. Our planning somewhat protected the institution from the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted upon many of our peers at other institutions. This experience showed us that our planning, the swift and difficult decisions we made in April and May, our COVID-19 protocols and our enormous flexibility and focus on individuals and their health and safety did exactly what they were designed to do – making the fall better and more successful than we could have imagined.
The Spring 2021 semester promises to carry the same success, and we are looking forward to having our students, faculty and staff back on campus. This semester many students elected to live on campus and take part in a residential experience that was both enjoyable and safe. I want to remind any student that is commuting or decided to take a leave of absence in the fall that would like to return to the campus – you are more than welcome. Spaces are available in all residence areas, and Merrimack welcomes any student who would like to be a residential member of our community in the spring. More regarding housing can be found below.
Today, I write to share with you information regarding Winter Break, the Spring 2021 semester, as well as to share the updated Spring 2021 Return to Campus Handbook, attached here.
First and foremost, our main priority remains to be the safety and wellbeing of our community and to make Merrimack’s campus one of the safest places it can be during the ongoing pandemic. The Fall semester experience has significantly shaped our planning for the Spring semester and you will find that many of our internal processes will remain the same with minimal changes. We will continue to monitor our internal processes to meet the public health needs of our community as the conditions of the pandemic continue to evolve and will be providing updates to the community regularly over the winter break.
As I have stated earlier, we do not expect the potential of a vaccine to have any impact on this campus during the Spring semester. Although there is a lot of hope that a vaccine will be introduced and available at the beginning of the new year, it will have its limits in terms of distribution and effectiveness and we are being told by numerous health agencies that our Spring semester should operate similarly to the Fall semester. Therefore we will be continuing the majority of our protocols throughout the spring that we introduced and implemented in the fall with one exception – that anyone who is going to be on campus in the spring, residential and commuter students, faculty and staff will be required to test twice a week. No exceptions. We are also looking into offering testing on Saturday mornings for students. The decision to test twice a week is based on our experience this fall as we understood more and more of the importance of testing, contact tracing and isolation to combat this insidious virus. This will impact both your time and the finances of the College but the investment of time and finances will go a long way towards making the campus as safe as it can be – the consequences of living in a pandemic.
As it was in the fall, attached is the Spring 2021 Return to Campus Handbook. As a reminder, the handbook is the comprehensive guide that covers all the details, policies and procedures of how the College will operate and function in the spring during the ongoing pandemic. Although the majority of our central policies that you have become accustomed to remain the same, please take note of the following key Winter Break and Spring semester information:
On Wednesday, November 25 at 5 p.m. all residence halls will be closed and the College will go back to a limited campus access policy for students, faculty and staff as it did in April and May. Those faculty and staff who would require access to campus will need to be approved by the appropriate Vice President or Dean who will approve faculty and staff to have access through the Elm Street entrance.
This year’s winter break will begin with most offices being closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 11, 2020, and will be reopening on Monday, January 11, 2021. With the exception of a few international students, winter athletes and other students who have permission to be on campus, no other students will be allowed on campus. Numbers will be limited. Beginning Monday, November 30, only those scheduled to be on campus, either through their Vice President or Dean, the Welcome Center or the Office of the Executive Vice President, will be permitted on campus. A full list of office and campus hours during the winter break can be found on page 9 of the Return to Campus handbook. As a reminder, all classes and exams end on December 4, 2020, and grades are due to the registrar, Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
The COVID-19 Testing Center will be closed beginning Tuesday, November 24. Those who would like to be tested before leaving the campus for the winter break may do so on Monday, November 23 from 9 a.m.- Noon. Scheduled employees who will be on campus during the winter break will continue their COVID-19 testing during this period. Those who come to campus will be required to be on the campus testing protocol. Otherwise, access will be restricted through the CoVerified App.
SPRING 2021 ACADEMIC CALENDAR
The Spring 2021 Academic Calendar can be found on page 7 in the handbook. As was the case in the fall, the College has delayed the start of the Spring semester to be away for the winter holidays and to give the entire Merrimack community time to quarantine before returning back to the campus. The move-in process will begin on January 26, 2021, and the first day of Spring semester classes will be on February 1, 2021. The College will not be observing holidays or spring break in order to limit the number of individuals leaving the campus and returning.
ADVISING AND REGISTRATION FOR THE SPRING 2021 SEMESTER
Advising will begin on Thursday, October 26 with the registration process beginning, starting with seniors, on October 29. During the advising process, students should discuss modality options with their advisors. For the Spring semester, students will be given three modality options which will be clearly identified in MyMack during the registration process. These modalities are remote, hybrid, or on-campus. An email will be sent to all students regarding the advising and registration process on Friday, October 23.
To help students during the registration process, the College has developed definitions for our three main types of course modalities. They are as follows:
ON-CAMPUSInstruction is delivered through face-to-face meetings held at regular meeting times in a dedicated physical space; the learner and the instructor are physically located in the same place at the same time. Students are expected to attend class.
HYBRIDHybrid learning combines real-time, face-to-face teaching whereby some traditional face-to-face contact hours are replaced with required synchronous or asynchronous remote instruction.
REMOTERemote courses are courses where teaching and learning take place online in real-time. It includes a set class schedule and required login/class meeting times. At the undergraduate level, all remote courses will be synchronous, and approximately 25% of all undergraduate courses will be remote only. At the graduate level, the percentage of courses that will be remote depends on the program, and there are some remote courses that are asynchronous, which means that content is available online for students to access when it best suits their schedules, and assignments are completed according to deadlines.
Additional information regarding advising and registration will be sent to all students. More information can also be found on pages 10 and 11 in the handbook.
FOR STUDENTS: ADVISING AND SPRING REGISTRATION
Students should work with their advisor in preparing for their spring course schedule. Only after you have been cleared by your academic advisor can you register for classes. Once cleared by your advisor, students should log into MyMack and will immediately receive a prompt asking them to declare their status for Spring 2021 and will need to make one of the following choices to proceed with their Spring class registration:
- I intend to take spring classes as a residential student: Students who choose this option will live on campus, will participate in the COVID-19 testing protocol, will be able to select all course modalities (hybrid, on-campus or remote), will be able to utilize all campus resources.
- I intend to take spring classes as a commuter student: Students who choose this option will be able to come to campus, will participate in the COVID-19 testing protocol, will be able to select all course modalities (hybrid, on-campus or remote), will be able to utilize all campus resources.
- I intend to take spring classes remotely: Students who choose this option will not be part of the COVID-19 testing protocol, will not be able to come to campus, will register for remote only classes where possible and if necessary will register for classes that are designated hybrid or on-campus but will take them remotely.
- I intend to take a Leave of Absence during the Spring semester: Students who choose this option will not be part of the COVID-19 testing protocol, will not be able to come to campus and will not be taking any Merrimack courses.
Students will not be able to register for a course before selecting their enrollment intention for the Spring. Once a student has designated their intention (residential, commuter, remote or leave of absence) they will be able to register for classes.
Any students who wish to change their intention should update their selection on MyMack. A form will be available should students want to change their intention. Students who have questions should contact the Task Force.
Graduate students will follow the same MyMack registration process and are encouraged to consult with their program director regarding planning for registration. Students are encouraged to register as soon as they are eligible.
In the Fall of 2020, over 2,100 students elected to live on campus and take part in a residential experience. Although it was different than in previous years, residents had a positive experience while maintaining all COVID-19 guidelines for safe living. Residential students currently in housing will remain in their fall assignments for Spring 2021. Housing policies for the Spring semester will mirror the same policies from the fall.
As mentioned above, students that are currently commuting, experiencing classes remotely or on a Leave of Absence and want to return to on-campus housing should email the Office of Residence Life at email@example.com. All students currently not in housing will be sent further information on how to register to live on campus. Spaces are available in all residence areas, and Merrimack welcomes any student who would like to be a residential member of our community in the spring.
The move-in process will begin on January 26, 2021, and end on January 29, 2021. Students will be asked to sign up for their move-in time in advance through MyMack. New students are encouraged to select a move-in time on January 27 to participate in orientation later that afternoon. Communication regarding the move-in sign-up process will be sent in the beginning of January.
Please see page 47 in the handbook for more information on housing.
Just as was required during the Fall semester, all students living in campus designated housing are required to have a departure plan on file with the institution. These plans must be followed in the event of a student needing to isolate, quarantine or if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Departure plans will be strictly enforced and minimal changes will be allowed once a student’s departure plan is submitted. Students will be asked to implement these plans as soon as possible after talking with our medical staff. New residential students must file a departure plan before moving in. Any questions involving departure plans should email the Dean of Students Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students who live more than 200 miles away from campus are encouraged to make alternate arrangements with family/friends close by or to travel home; however, should that not be possible they can choose to quarantine or isolate with the College in a designated temporary housing space. Please contact the Dean of Students Office at email@example.com with any questions. See page 28 in the handbook for more details.
TESTING IN THE SPRING
Twice a week surveillance testing for all community members will begin the week of January 25, 2021, with baseline testing. All residential students will receive their baseline tests on their move-in date. The plan is to have all members of the community be able to self-select their testing times and days.
The College, in partnership with the town of North Andover, will continue to use a trained contact tracing team to work in concert with the state and local community to ensure faster identification of contacts at risk. Those deemed by the contact tracing team to be at risk of exposure will be informed they have been in contact with a confirmed case and provided with the appropriate self-quarantine protocols. In situations where the employee is not sick but is in self-quarantine, they should work remotely.
More information will be shared in January regarding testing.
FLU VACCINE REQUIREMENT
Per the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, all college students living and/or taking classes on campus are now required to receive the flu vaccine by December 31, 2020. The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. If you are currently a remote student and planning to return to campus in the Spring you will need to get vaccinated through your own medical provider before returning to campus. For more information and to document your flu vaccination visit www.merrimack.edu/flu or review page 29 in the handbook.
Commencement exercises are scheduled to take place over the weekend of May 21-23, 2021. Merrimack College will be celebrating both the class of 2020 and 2021. As public events are limited as a result of COVID-19 guidance, both the class of 2020 and 2021 should continue to monitor their emails for further details that will be shared in the coming months.
Merrimack, in partnership with the other members of both the Northeast Conference (NEC) and Hockey East, will continue to be consistent with or exceed the policies and guidelines established by Merrimack College, the NEC, Hockey East, the NCAA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including COVID-19 testing up to three (3) times per week for student-athletes while in their competitive seasons. Travel will be limited to exclude overnight trips whenever possible, and air travel will not be permitted. Athletes should continue to follow the guidelines given to them by their coaches. See page 58 in the handbook for more information.
Finally, we will be holding a series of Town Halls for students, parents, faculty and staff to discuss the Spring semester, plan for move-in and answer any questions. The dates and times of the Town Halls will be sent on Friday, October 23.
While Merrimack College has not remained untouched by COVID-19, what has not changed is our strength and conviction to weather this storm and come out better on the other side. Each of you are a valued member of this community, and we are looking forward to your engagement in yet another exciting – albeit different – semester at Merrimack College.
I look forward to seeing you in the spring.
Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D.