Returning students and faculty remember the altered fall and spring break schedules last year, in which administration opted to have a single-day fall break and five, isolated days off scattered throughout the spring semester. These changes were made in order to discourage on-campus students from traveling in an initiative to keep New College as COVID-19 free as possible. Even so, students and faculty lamented the lack of rest these break days afforded. This year, New College is back on schedule to have a consecutive, five-day fall and spring break, from Oct. 11 to 15 and Mar. 21 to 25, respectively. But whether or not New College sticks to that schedule will depend on the ever-changing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines as these dates approach.
“With regards to fall break week, we will assess both local and statewide conditions as we do every week at our COVID-19 Response Team meeting, which occurs every Tuesday afternoon,” Vice President for Finance & Administration Christian Kinsley said. “We also review any updated guidance from the CDC, Board of Governors or Department of Health that may be relevant. Based on what we learn, this will be communicated in the weekly update.”
“While the Delta variant surge has obviously changed some aspects of our reopening plan, there hasn’t been guidance or data indicating that we should cancel the fall or spring break,” Kinsley continued.
Registrar Brian Scholten—who drafts the New College academic calendar every semester—confirmed that before the pandemic, New College hasn’t deviated from the one-week fall and spring break since 1997. After Scholten drafts the academic calendars, it goes through various committees on campus. Once they approve it, it goes to the faculty, then to the Provost and President and ultimately it needs to be approved by the Board of Trustees (BOT) before it is sent out to students.
“I work on a new academic calendar every fall semester, and our goal—or maybe it’s more my goal—has been to have four calendars out for four years,” Scholten continued. “Part of the reasoning is that when a new student arrives with their parents, they can see how the calendar is going to look for their four years while they’re here. This year’s calendar was approved at least a few years ago.”
This means that last year’s shortened fall and spring break was decided on very last-minute, at least when compared to the other academic calendars.
However, some staff acknowledge that the full fall and spring break schedules may still not pan out this year.
“I can’t say that the COVID-19 response force has not been talking about it,” Program Director of the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) Dr. Anne Fisher said. “I think what they wanted to do is bring everybody back to as much normalcy as possible. We haven’t talked about changing the academic schedule at all right now.”
Even so, Fisher said that she is taking comfort in the fact that 86% of New College’s on-campus student population is fully vaccinated, and the responsibility most students have shown by continuing to wear masks.
“I think students have, just statistically speaking, done better percentage-wise at being vaccinated than employees,” Fisher said. “Though, I don’t know what the employee numbers are because there’s a lot more employees that have not submitted stuff than students that have submitted stuff.”
“I’m hopeful that the positivity rate will drop between now and [fall break],” Fisher later continued. “I think people are really weary of trying to deal with COVID-19, so it’s hard for people to get any energy in thinking about what big picture stuff might be around it.”
It is not currently clear whether students will need to submit negative test results before returning to campus after fall and spring break. Fisher speculated that the school may require them only from students that have not submitted a vaccination card, but as it stands, it is also unclear whether the school will require a negative test result before the spring term starts.
In the meantime, Fisher urges students that plan on traveling during breaks to continue to keep themselves safe by limiting high-risk contact (being “within six feet for more than 15 minutes, aggregate over a 24 hour period”) and continuing to wear a mask, ideally a KN95, N95 or a medical mask.
“We are less likely to pick it up on campus because we are highly vaccinated and because people are pretty much behaving well,” Fisher said. “However, when you get off campus, the vaccination rate in Florida is a little over 50%. So, every other person that you run into is likely to not be vaccinated. I hope students understand that if you do have symptoms, isolate yourself right away.”