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Officials Outline Vermont College Reopening Protocols

Phil Scott
Pat Bradley

Vermont officials have announced the guidelines that colleges and universities must follow this fall to allow students back on campus for in-person classroom learning.
Officials in Vermont have been working for several weeks to create strict protocols to allow college campuses to reopen for in-person classes. During Governor Phil Scott’s Tuesday COVID-19 briefing guidelines and regulations allowing colleges and universities to reopen were outlined.

Vermont Restart Task Force Higher Education chair Richard Schneider is the just-retired president of Norwich University. He says colleges and universities are a critical component of the state’s economy and workforce development.  “The state of Vermont aims to make Vermont the safest place to go to college. We're going to use the best public health emergency policies and procedures established to strictly enforce our protocols so that institutions can open and remain open.”

The Agency of Commerce’s guidance for colleges and universities in Vermont is the minimum mandatory guidelines for on-campus learning. Schneider says each campus can impose stricter regulations.  “The guidance has three major components. The first one is to make sure they don't come in if they're infected. The second one is once we're all together how do we stay not infected. And if we do perchance get infected, what are we going to do to deal with it quickly so we minimize the risk of having to shut down school again or send students home. So a few of the highlights of the plan: implementing a mandatory quarantine policy.  We're going to test every student at every college and every university campus at least once at the beginning of the school year. We're also going to be monitoring of course their health every day. And then we're also reducing the density in the classrooms. We're going to work to make sure our schools remain some of the safest learning environments in the country.”

University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella noted that the college has posted its Gold and Green Promise outlining what will be expected of students in the fall.   “It gives you a clear idea of what we're expecting the students to do. And it also discusses the sanction process.  We are at this point working with our faculty to offer all our courses in, you know, multiple formats: online only, mixed mode which is streaming from classes, and completing in person. We've also just announced a stay at home option so that students who either them or their parents are concerned about coming back to campus are able to stay away and still get a good quality education.”

The state guidance for re-opening requires all students, faculty and staff to sign a health and safety contract that Schneider says holds them accountable for following the state regulations.  “What the state has required is that anyone that breaches the guidelines would be immediately disciplined. Institutions are prepared and ready to discipline students and employees. For example, let's say you have an employee who says ‘No it's my right I don't have to wear a mask.’ Well then it's not your right to work at my school because you threatened the entire population by not doing that.”

Governor Phil Scott says the contracts are intended to make sure campuses can be opened safely.  “From my standpoint I'm not sure that it's a legal mission. It's more to make sure that we're keeping the campuses safe and the general public safe.”
“So this is Rick Schneider.  We wrote it to show our students what is right. What are we expecting of them with their behavior.”

State officials said about 56-thousand students are enrolled in Vermont colleges but it’s unknown how many will decide to return for in-person classes.


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