Changes to spring semester, flexible work arrangement policy and more

Jan. 12, 2022

Dear faculty and staff,

As we prepare for the spring semester, college leadership is closely monitoring the current surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious Omicron variant, as well as a recent spike in cases in our own community. We are aware this variant surge is impacting many, including those who are fully vaccinated. While grateful for the better outcomes being seen in fully vaccinated populations, we take seriously the impact of this surge on all aspects of the college and are adjusting our plans accordingly.

During the past week, three St. Norbert College athletics teams experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. Two of the three teams were on the road at the time, so positive cases did not impact campus. One team was on campus when the outbreak occurred, and those cases are reflected on the COVID-19 dashboard. All individuals impacted are receiving the necessary care and are being monitored accordingly. Following NCAA and conference protocols, the athletics department has increased testing of student-athletes, changed practice structures for affected programs and enhanced safety protocols. 

These outbreaks, coupled with the current surge in COVID cases in the state and the country, have led college leadership to adjust our approach to the start of the spring semester. To ensure the safety of all in our community, especially those considered to be at a higher risk for serious COVID-19 illness, the spring 2022 semester will begin with two weeks of virtual instruction

This method of course delivery allows students to move onto campus at their discretion, while also preventing any disruption in classroom learning for students who may need to return or remain at home for quarantine or isolation during the current Omicron surge. Virtual instruction also positions our faculty to prepare for and implement appropriate pedagogies for the semester's virtual and future in-person segments.

The revised course delivery plans — guided by faculty feedback provided to deans and the provost throughout the pandemic and particularly in recent minutes, days and weeks — will allow for a safer, phased return to campus, as federal public health experts predict the surge may turn the corner at the end of January.

Deans will provide opportunities for ongoing faculty dialogue to obtain feedback and suggestions to enhance our response plan. Faculty Affairs and Development and ITS are working on training/refresher sessions to support faculty during the next two weeks. For questions or ideas related to instructional support and technology, please share them with Dr. Lisa VanWormer (Dean of Faculty Affairs and Development) or Krissy Lukens (Director of Academic Technology).

Student Move-In
Students are encouraged to discuss the Omicron surge with their families and to consider staying at their permanent residence for the first two weeks of the semester, until classes return to in-person course delivery on Feb. 7. However, our housing and dining operations, as well as other student resources, will continue to be available to students who choose to move into their on-campus residences as originally planned. 

All students, regardless of vaccination status and of when they choose to move to campus, will still be required to submit a COVID-19 entry test within five days prior to their return. Students will need to inform the college of the date of their return. This will allow Health Services to cross-check pre-entry testing compliance and identify students who need to participate in surveillance testing. 

Flexible Work Arrangement Policy
College leadership has also approved extending the window for the college’s flexible work arrangement policy through Feb. 4, as COVID-19 cases remain elevated in our area. Supervisors should continue to monitor staffing to allow for coverage and ensure student access to services.

Employee Testing Requirement
The college will delay implementation of the Vaccination, Testing and Face-Covering Policy for college employees, including student employees, as the OSHA emergency temporary standard continues through ongoing litigation. College leadership will closely monitor updates on court rulings related to the standard and will share additional information as it becomes available.

Athletics Safety Enhancements
Until further notice, athletics will implement enhanced safety protocols, including increased testing prior to travel and strategically pairing individuals (e.g., housemates and lockermates) to mitigate risk and close contacts. When on the road, all teams will enter a controlled environment and eliminate outside interactions. The department has also created transportation protocols, which have been approved by Lamers Bus Lines, if individuals become symptomatic while on the road. Student-athletes who do not feel comfortable traveling to overnight competitions may opt out of competition, consistent with current practices.

Student Surveillance Testing
College leadership also is closely monitoring COVID testing availability in our area. The college anticipates increased testing capacity in the coming weeks as additional community testing sites open in nearby communities. This allows the college to further adjust its plan for surveillance testing during the spring semester: Students will no longer be charged a $200 surveillance testing fee for the spring semester. Students without vaccination records on file will still be required to comply with regular surveillance testing, but will once again have the option to test either on or off campus. Students who decide to get tested on campus will be charged $20 per test, following the same policy that was in place during the fall semester.

Because the public health situation continues to evolve, it’s difficult to predict what, if any, additional changes may be necessary as we move forward. Your patience and flexibility in the midst of this uncertainty is greatly appreciated. We anticipate you’ll have questions related to these changes, and we’ve compiled
questions and answers for your review. If you have additional questions about the college’s protocols, please email; your message will be forwarded to the office or individual best able to respond.

As always, we are grateful for your care and sacrifices, and we are impressed by your persistence and resilience during these unsettled times. Together we will make it through this adversity and continue to learn, discover, heal and support one another.