President Patton address the Middlebury Community on the eve of students’ return

Middlebury College President Laurie Patton and Chief Health Officer and College Physician Mark Peluso released this letter to the public to explain the college’s preparations for the widespread return of students to campus this coming Sunday and Monday.

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To Members of the Middlebury Community,

As we prepare once again to bring students back to the Middlebury College campus for the spring semester, we write to share our plans and collective commitment to creating and maintaining a safe and healthy community for all.

We are incredibly grateful for the partnership with this — our town and county — during a most unusual fall, and we look forward to continuing our work together for another successful term. In this letter, we will tell you about some of the changes we are making on campus, building on our successes in the fall, and in response to the evolving conditions in Vermont and worldwide. We invite you also to review our detailed plans and read our latest announcements on our Spring 2021 Campus Guide website: middlebury.edu/office/spring2021.

Student Arrival and Testing

Similar to the fall, about 2,000 students will return to Middlebury in two groups, on Feb. 21 and 22, after completing a two-week prearrival quarantine at home. They will report immediately to our COVID-19 testing center at Virtue Field House, followed by room quarantine until they receive negative results. They then will move to campus quarantine until it is determined to be safe to allow visits to town and Addison County.

Some changes this term: Rather than two arrival tests, students will be tested three times, and classes will be conducted remotely at least through the first week of the semester. We will not commence in-person learning until we know it is safe to do so, and we will continue regular testing for students in response to the latest conditions.

Campus Status, Conduct Policies

With the increased incidence of COVID-19 worldwide and in Vermont — including new, more transmissible strains — this semester could be more challenging than the fall, and we are prepared for a higher incidence of the virus on campus. Still, we know that the best way to prevent spread of the virus is strict adherence to core health and safety protocols.

We have simplified our approach in response to these expectations. Rather than planning to progress through phases with a slow easing of restrictions over time, which was not fully possible in the fall, we will remain nimble and adjust protocols from week to week as conditions warrant.

We think this more realistic approach will make it simpler for students to navigate life on campus and to know what rules are in effect at specific times. We will offer weekly webinars for students and monthly webinars for faculty and staff to discuss the changes and answer questions. The latest information will be posted on our new Campus Status webpage: middlebury.edu/office/spring2021/covid-reporting-dashboard/campus-status.

We also have updated our conduct policies and will continue to publish statistics about COVID-19 cases and disciplinary outcomes on our Reporting Dashboard: middlebury.edu/office/spring2021/covid-reporting-dashboard.

Collective Health and Well-Being

Middlebury will continue to monitor local and regional health conditions, including health system capacity, cases in the broader community, and other factors in the spring. If conditions on campus or in our community change, we are prepared to shift to room quarantine or to send students home to complete their classes remotely if that becomes necessary.

In the event of a high number of cases or unexplained clusters of cases, we will rely on guidance from the Vermont Department of Health and our Porter Medical Center partners to determine how best to proceed.

Expansion of Outdoor Activities

It is important to note that the health and safety of our community includes the mental health and well-being of our students.

We, as a community, did a remarkable job in following health and safety protocols in the fall, and that partnership is essential to an enjoyable and rewarding experience on campus in the spring.

This means that more faculty and staff will welcome our students and their families to campus at a safe distance on arrival days; they will participate in weekend rounds to assist in monitoring student behavior; and they will help operations run more smoothly at the dining halls and at our testing center.

We also will be providing more outdoor opportunities for our students, most notably skiing and snowshoeing on the Ralph Myhre Golf Course and skating on an outdoor ice rink. You may notice some new tents, fire pits, and hot chocolate huts as you drive by campus. We are embracing the cold weather and everything wonderful about Vermont.

As conditions allow, we anticipate allowing students to travel into town and within Addison County, including to the Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center. In the meantime, we will continue allowing local deliveries at our drop-off center at 75 Shannon St.

We thank you for your participation in these endeavors.

We learned much from the fall. And we were reminded that this community has incredible fortitude, resilience, and — an attribute that surely will be needed in the spring — perseverance. We thank the entire community for all you have done to support Middlebury and our students. And, perhaps most of all, we look forward to the moment when the pandemic is behind us, and we can celebrate the historic and vibrant connections between the College and the community that have helped us through this time.

Sincerely,

Laurie Patton, President

Mark Peluso, Chief Health Officer and College Physician

Middlebury College

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Addison County Independent