With colleges in Maryland making plans for the upcoming fall term, St. Mary’s College of Maryland is mandating that all students, faculty and staff who will be on campus be vaccinated against COVID-19, with some exemptions granted for medical and religious reasons.
At a St. Mary’s College board of trustees meeting on Monday, President Tuajuanda Jordan said “safety has been and continues to be the top priority of St. Mary’s College … to keep the campus community as safe as we possibly can, we have implemented policies, procedures and practices in accordance to federal, state and local public health guidelines.”
As a result of their efforts, she said, “We have administered more than 6,000 surveillance tests on campus and our positivity rate has averaged significantly below 0.5%.”
Jordan mentioned the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that nationally the infectivity rate per 100,000 people is highest among young adults.
She told the board she is “seeking approval from the board of trustees to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all on-campus … students, faculty and staff beginning in fall 2021.”
After board members asked several questions, all of those in attendance unanimously agreed to pass the motion.
“St. Mary’s is not alone in doing this,” Larry Leak, board member noted. “Many campuses across the country are moving this way. In fact, the University System of Maryland has moved this way with all the public colleges and universities under their governance structure.”
Shana Meyer, interim vice president for student affairs, said last week so far the college has “done a lot to make sure students know about the options” to get vaccinated in the county. Charter buses have been organized to transport students to the Hollywood firehouse, where the county’s health department offers vaccinations.
“A good number of students have taken advantage of that,” she said. “They can get their first shot here and get their booster shot back home.”
College planning for in-person instruction for next semester
Michael Wick, provost and dean of faculty at St. Mary’s College, shared with Southern Maryland News the college has implemented a hybrid model of instruction this academic year, with students and professors having the option to attend class either in-person or via Zoom meetings.
“It’s actually a very flexible format that allows instructors and students to respond to their own health needs as well as their level of comfort,” he said. “It’s not anyone’s preferred mode of instruction or mode of learning, but its worked fairly well.”
Wick said teacher assistants are provided for each classroom to “facilitate conversation and solve technical issues” when professors are teaching through a screen while students are in classrooms.
For the fall semester, the dean said the college does not yet have firm plans but is working toward being open as a residential college with face-to-face instruction.
Pandemic-spurred changes the college is looking to keep include the establishment of a “winterim,” or a window after the fall term and before the spring term where remote courses are offered.
“Many students took advantage of that,” he said. Although, “our bread and butter are small classes and face-to-face instruction with deep relationships between faculty and staff and between the students and one another … we have to be careful what we maintain” from this year’s hybrid model.
Meyer said the college is likely to continue with a phased move-in to the residence halls next year. Before this year, “folks would all move in at once … phasing it over several days just really helps with crowd control.”
In addition, the college was able to require virtual meetings compliant with health privacy laws this year, allowing students to meet with counselors virtually.
“That’s a nice change that adds access for students,” Meyer claimed.
CSM to bring 50% of students on campus
The College of Southern Maryland strongly encouraged everyone to get their vaccinations; however, the community college is not mandating faculty, staff and students show proof of vaccination in order to return to campus at this time.
At CSM campuses across the region, students have been learning remotely as well as attending physical classes. Maureen Murphy, president of the college, said last week in an interview the hope for the upcoming fall semester is 50% of students will be on site at all campuses, compared to just 25% now.
Many students don’t mind the broadcasting of classes and synchronous learning environments, the president said, as these methods prove to be convenient for them, but “people always want to be involved in the community.”
“A beautiful job on campus has been done with maintaining safety,” Murphy said. “Who knew we’d need so much plexiglass in the world?”
While campuses aren’t open to the public, students check in through an application and present a QR code when coming on campus.
To help facilitate vaccinations among the campus community, the college regularly sends out information to students and staff regarding the availability of appointments.
“There are a lot of opportunities in Southern Maryland to get vaccinated,” she said. “If folks need help getting an appointment, we are happy to help with that.” Murphy added that the La Plata campus is currently acting as a vaccination site.
She claimed the college is working to “capture the good things about working in a remote environment,” and is forming focus groups to figure out what worked.
“I’m proud of the resourcefulness and creativity of folks. It was a blessing,” she said.
To help students who may have been struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, the college has done several things, including handing out thousands of pounds of food for those who were food insecure, loaning laptops to students who needed them, expanding mental health resources and providing 24/7 virtual tutoring.
La Plata campus pool officially is permanently closed
It was announced last month the pool at the CSM La Plata campus is permanently closed as the school uses its resources for items that support students during the pandemic.
“We can’t in good conscious put our limited resources into it,” Murphy said.
Built in 1974, the pool used to be the only public pool in Charles County, Today, six other pools are available, which caused the usage of the campus pool to drop dramatically. The associated gym has been closed during the pandemic, and Murphy said she doesn’t anticipate it will be open in 2021, but the school will work on incrementally updating the building.
Fitness centers and pools on the other campuses are currently closed due to the pandemic and will remain closed until further notice.
The athletic center at St. Mary’s College is only open to residential students for now, who are required to sign up for a period of time to use the equipment.