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Delivered meals, hybrid teaching, and quarantine policy in flux: Key takeaways from last night’s parent town hall

At an event geared towards Princeton parents and families, administrators shared new information about spring academics, housing, dining, and more.

<h5>The entrance to McCosh Health Center.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The entrance to McCosh Health Center.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

At a parent town hall last night, administrators said the University may alter aspects of its spring 2021 move-in and quarantine process, pending guidance from the state of New Jersey. This news comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the recommended quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days on Wednesday.

“Once New Jersey has made their decisions, then we will look at that. And we will certainly — for quarantine — we’ll follow whatever the New Jersey guidelines are for quarantine at that point,” Executive Director of Environmental Health and Safety Robin Izzo said. As of now, New Jersey still recommends a 14-day quarantine period.

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Director of Housing and Real Estate Services Dorian Johnson added that while the University initially planned to launch a move-in sign-up site “on or before Dec. 7th,” the launch will be pushed to “some point during the week of Dec. 7th” to better account for a potentially-reduced quarantine period.

“We’re doing this because the new guidance that could come from the state could impact move-in dates,” he said.

During the 90-minute town hall geared toward parents and families, administrators addressed pre-submitted questions on move-in, housing, dining testing, athletics, academics, and other aspects of the spring 2021 semester. A similar event was hosted for students the night before. Administrators reiterated many of the points from the student town hall, though they shared some new information as well. 

Administrators emphasized that the University experience this spring will be far different from a normal semester, and families should recognize that electing to live on campus will not be the right decision for everyone.

At the first town hall, Izzo told students that the University “is known as a fixed facility for the vaccine distribution … and when the vaccine becomes available, we’ll be able to distribute it.” When asked last night whether the University would consider requiring a COVID-19 vaccination, Izzo said, “there’s a lot still to know about whether we could even require it, so that’s a decision that we’ll make down the road.”

“As you think about the vaccination process, it is important to understand we will still be living in a regulatory environment where the state can say what we can and can’t do in certain areas,” Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Brent Colburn added.

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Regarding on-campus quarantining, event moderators said that multiple pre-submitted questions criticized the University’s previously-announced policy that students could only go outside “for up to 30 minutes per day” for 12 days after receiving a negative test.

Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun noted that the 30-minute restriction will familiarize students with the strict, exposure-based quarantine measures that may become necessary down the line.

“We want people to get into the habit of knowing what quarantining really looks and feels like, so that when we have to quarantine around exposure, students, and others will understand what we mean by that,” she said.

Within the past few days, details about the 30-minute outdoor restriction and other aspects of the quarantine period were removed from the University’s “Quarantine and Isolation” web page. At the time of publication, the site notes only that “students who test negative may have their access expanded for the following 12 days.”

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Asked for clarity on the 30-minute policy, Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told The Daily Princetonian that “the COVID website continues to be the best source for up-to-date information on this issue” and the current note is all that the University concretely knows at this time.

“As noted in the introduction to the University’s COVID website, the information there will continue to be updated as circumstances and policies change,” he wrote in a statement. “Government regulations and public health guidance continue to evolve in response to the epidemic, and we are working to ensure that our approach to the spring semester reflects the current guidance.”

At the town hall, Dean of the College Jill Dolan also addressed parent questions surrounding in-person academics. While restating her plan to teach a course on American pop culture with in-person components, open to first-year international students needing in-person coursework for visa reasons, Dolan emphasized that most coursework would be conducted virtually.

Last week, the ‘Prince’ reported that faculty “for about 60 courses” had expressed interest to Dolan’s office in incorporating hybrid elements into their teaching. Last night, Dolan clarified that — of this small subset of professors — “many more wanted to make in-person components rather than doing a full in-person, hybrid course.” Such elements could include socially-distant office hours or optional in-person precepts.

Administrators also answered questions about scheduling, noting that in addition to a two-day spring break, students will be expected to stay on campus through the reading period and will go home after their last final exam — since there is no break between classes and reading period, unlike this semester.

Izzo also presented a more comprehensive overview of what the move-in process will look like. She explained that students will receive their first test upon arrival. They will then isolate for 24 hours, during which time meals will be brought to their rooms. Subsequently, they will quarantine until the term begins on Feb. 1. Test results will take 24 to 48 hours, and students will be tested twice a week.

“We are still finalizing exactly where people will go for arrival, but there will be a place — a large space on campus — where people will start out to get their first test.  They will then be able to move into their dorm on campus or off campus — if they’re living off campus,” she added. “We expect the students to stay in their room. They’ll have food there available to them. And … if they have a positive test result, they will move to isolation.”

According to Assistant Vice President of Dining Services Smitha Haneef, each room would “have a care basket in the room for the student … at least until the time of the first test result.”

More information also followed on the concept of an on-campus orientation for first-year students. Associate Dean for Academic Advising Cecily Swanson explained that being on campus would supplement the virtual orientation students joined over the summer.

“That will mean going over where they can study, how to access all of our virtual academic support through the McGraw Center, through our peer advising, academic advising program, and through the residential colleges,” Swanson explained.

With a vaccine in the works, some parents were looking toward the summer as a time where more on-campus activity could occur. One such question asked whether a summer session — which administrators previously alluded to — was feasible for the University. Dolan explained that much remains unknown.

“We might have some remote instruction again in the summer, but … at this point, we can’t guarantee that we can use the summer to make up for things students might have missed in the fall or the spring,” she said.

Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 also addressed questions relating to varsity athletics. While the Ivy League already canceled winter athletic competition, it remains unknown whether the spring sports season will take place and unclear to what extent athletes will be able to train and practice.

Marcoux Samaan explained that there will be a four-phase process for the resumption of athletics, “starting with clearance, then conditioning, moving to small group skill instruction, and advancing to group practices if and when conditions and campus/state policies permit.” Phase one may begin as soon as the initial move-in quarantine period ends, though the timeline beyond this is unclear. Of Ivy League schools that phased in athletics in the fall, none advanced beyond phase two.

Marcoux Samaan added that a definite decision on the Ivy League spring season will be made in mid-January at the earliest.

“Our hope is that we’ll be able to begin the Ivy League in a phased process for training and practice when classes begin. They won’t begin before that. Everyone will go through all the same quarantine policies and procedures,” Marcoux Samaan said.

Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid Elizabeth Badger explained to parents how the University will determine financial aid packages for students this spring term. Packages will be available later this month, and tuition refunds will be available until April 3.

“We will package those students with an on-campus budget in the updated financial aid award that will be available later this month, who will then confirm with housing some time in January to ensure that students who actually did sign the contracts will be packaged with the appropriate financial aid budget,” Badger said.

More information on all of these topics can be found on the Spring 2021 website and various associated FAQs, which administrators encouraged students and families to check regularly.

Generally, Dolan expressed both optimism and caution about the extent to which campus could open up further later in the semester.

“The CDC has
 been 
cautioning that this winter will be very dangerous for the country. We have to be
 sober about
 what things will be like, especially 
when students arrive on campus,“ she said.

Calhoun added that she hopes families will be “clear-eyed” when deciding whether coming to campus is right for them.

“This will not be the right choice for everyone,” Dolan said.

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