Penn State Announces Plans for Spring Semester

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The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted far longer than most of us have anticipated, and it appears spring break has become its latest casualty. University leadership recently announced Penn State’s plans for the spring 2021 semester, with things possibly looking a little different than this semester.

The plans include a later start than usual in January, with classes not starting until Jan. 19, after Martin Luther King weekend. This delayed start will provide the university the necessary time needed to complete pre-arrival testing of students and staff, similarly to what we saw this past fall. Students will also be requested to quarantine for at least seven days before returning to campus.

Spring break has also been officially canceled to mitigate the possibility of students and faculty spreading the virus through travel. Administrators felt that a week-long break would urge students to travel home or around the country, posing the risk of an outbreak once returning to campus. Other Big Ten universities have made similar decisions to cancel spring breaks such as Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue.

To support the mental health and well-being of students, faculty and staff, Penn State has recently announced its plan to have “wellness” days built into the spring academic calendar. These “wellness days” have been outlined as non-instructional days to provides “breaks” for students and instructors throughout the course of the semester. The dates and number of these wellness days have yet to be determined by university officials.

“The health and safety of our community during the ongoing pandemic has guided our decision-making for the spring semester and the subsequent elimination of spring break. We also know it’s important to practice self-care and take care of our mental well-being,” stated President Barron on the issue.

Spring study abroad programs have also been canceled by the university for this coming spring. This decision was made with many accumulating factors in mind, such as the continued rising cases of COVID-19, international travel advisories, potential health risks to one’s self and others and financial and academic planning issues.

“With sufficient concern surrounding the global pandemic and on-going disruption around the world, this decision was not made quickly or lightly. our decision is rooted in the profound current uncertainties about travel out of the United States, mobility in host locations, and the ability to even return to one’s home country,” said Brian Brubaker, director of Education Abroad and Global Programs. “We, in good conscience, cannot provide programs with so many unknown issues.”

Once students return to campus in late January, academic life will look similar to fall. The same modes of instruction in place currently will be in place in the spring:

  • In-Person Instruction — students meet in the assigned classroom at the time assigned in the course schedule.
  • Mixed-Mode Instruction — instructors deploy a combination of instructional modes to meet social distancing requirements.
  • Remote Synchronous Instruction — students attend all classes remotely at the scheduled time.
  • Remote Asynchronous Instruction — course material is made available for students to work through on their own schedules.

Additional information related to the spring semester will continue to be provided by the university as plans are finalized.

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