New guidelines: College students will face a COVID-transformed semester in Vermont

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A heads-up to college students: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott looks forward to the fall semester, but warns against intense socializing that typifies campus life.

Scott’s administration issued a 10-page order Tuesday that spells out ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections among students, employees and neighboring communities. 

In addition to mandatory quarantines and coronavirus screenings, the governor’s guidelines sharply restrict visitors to campus residence halls, students and faculty out-of-state travel, as well as the size of indoor gatherings.

Academic calendars, too, will likely shift.

Among the options offered to colleges and universities in Scott’s newly drafted Safe and Healthy Return to Campus mandate:

  • Ending the in-person academic semester at Thanksgiving.
  • Eliminating short January terms and a late beginning to spring semester.
  • Eliminating spring break.

Face masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene — precautions that have become routine in Vermont — will become mandatory at educational institutions, according to the new guidelines.

Dining halls and classrooms will be less densely packed.

How will the rules be enforced?

Students (including off-campus dwellers), staff and faculty must pledge to abide by institutional guidelines in a “health-safety contract,” a document that will also spell out disciplinary actions for those who flout the rules.

The “Green and Gold Promise,” a contract announced Tuesday by University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella, appeals to students’ sense of community responsibility, and threatens them with removal from campus if they fall short.

“We’re about to change what’s ‘normal’,” said Richard Schneider, the former president of Norwich University who worked with Scott’s administration to create the guidelines: “Vermont aims to be the safest state in which to go to college.”

Even with precautions in place, Schneider added, some risk of contagion will remain on college and university campuses.

“Could there be a potential outbreak? Yes,” he said. “But we feel we have the resources to contain an outbreak.”

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or joelbaird@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.

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