RINDGE — Saturday marks the beginning of a long winter break for students at Franklin Pierce University, who left campus before Thanksgiving and aren’t scheduled to begin returning until Jan. 24, a week later than initially planned.
The later start to the second semester is designed to allow students time to quarantine after the holidays and residence halls to reopen on a staggered schedule to ensure social distancing. This is one of the many preparations the university is making to bring students back in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into another academic term.
Like Keene State College, Franklin Pierce has canceled spring break to minimize student travel, and the risk of spreading the viral respiratory illness. And while exact plans for the spring are still being finalized, university President Kim Mooney said all students and employees will be required to be tested for COVID-19 to return to campus in January.
“We anticipate having a similar opening in January that we did in the fall, and that is to certainly encourage students, faculty and staff to get tested prior to their return,” Mooney said in a Zoom interview Thursday. “If they can’t arrange that, we will test everyone again that doesn’t show up with a valid test result within a certain period of time.”
When Franklin Pierce reopened in August, students could be tested either prior to their return or in their cars immediately when they got to campus. If using the former method, students had to be tested within 72 hours of their arrival and have the results with them when they moved in. Mooney said Thursday the 72-hour time period for testing could be changed for students’ return for the spring semester, but those plans haven’t been finalized yet.
Throughout the fall semester, Franklin Pierce University randomly tested several hundred students and staff each week for COVID-19. A total of 3,407 tests yielded 26 coronavirus cases, for a positivity rate of 0.76 percent, university spokesman Ken Phillips said. Franklin Pierce enrolls about 1,200 students at its Rindge campus.
“When you combine the random testing with the isolation and the quarantine processes, and then how closely we were working with the state, we really didn’t see that community spread that we’ve all been reading about,” Phillips said.
In the spring, the school plans to test even more, Mooney said.
“We will continue random testing throughout the semester, but it will probably be greater, not just because of the flu season and the fact that we’ll be indoors more, but we also will have some guidance from the NCAA about testing student athletes,” she said. “And that’s another new component for the spring that we didn’t have happening in the fall.”
University leaders are still working to nail down specific academic plans, too, according to Sarah Dangelantonio, the school’s executive dean for assessment and academic affairs. But, she said, classes likely will operate similarly to the fall, when students and professors could choose classes that were fully in-person, fully remote or a combination of the two.
Franklin Pierce also will continue public health protocols designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, including requiring masks, limiting gatherings and increasing sanitization measures in classrooms.
“Students will still be cleaning their hands when they walk in the classroom, wiping off their desks,” Dangelantonio said. “[Professors will] be wiping off our desks, and all of that computer equipment [in classrooms] gets cleaned off.”
The university plans for students to remain on campus through the end of classes on May 7, and take final exams in person. Franklin Pierce also hopes to hold an in-person commencement ceremony on May 15.
“It will certainly be a modified event, but we really want to have an in-person, on-ground commencement this year,” Mooney said. “That’s our goal.”
She credited Franklin Pierce’s success this semester with the intensive planning the school conducted through the spring and summer, and everyone on campus who followed that plan. And with a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, Mooney said the university’s reopening plan, and effective adherence to it, has allowed the school to look beyond the pandemic.
“We are already thinking about the implications of a post-pandemic world on higher education, and how Franklin Pierce University will respond to that post-pandemic environment and anticipate the kinds of programs and professional and intellectual skills that graduates will need to function well, and frankly, thrive, in this new environment,” she said. “So, we’re already doing that, and I’m really proud of that. The pandemic did not consume us.”