Building on the success of a full academic year with students on campus and in classrooms, Longwood is looking to the Fall 2021 semester with an eye toward offering even more in-person classes.
Longwood was one of the first universities in the state to commit to in-person learning for the current academic year and moved quickly to develop a comprehensive plan to ensure student safety while on campus. Through a campuswide effort—including a student-developed Shared Commitment that community members agreed to—Longwood is nearing completion of a successful academic year without interruption.
Planning is already underway to bring students to campus safely, building on the successes of this year.
We talked to Dr. Larissa Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Matt McGregor, associate vice president of wellness, who played key roles in the university’s Covid-19 preparation and response.
What are in-person classes going to look like in Fall 2021?
LS: We are planning to be as close to normal as possible with fully in-person classes. There will likely still be some classroom precautions in place based on the guidelines and overall public health situation at the time. Registration for Fall classes has proceeded as normal and will begin for incoming freshmen as scheduled on May 20.
This year, we really showed the ability to be flexible and innovative with in-person classes, which led us to have one of the highest percentages of in-person classes of any Virginia public university. We knew how important that was for our students, who both want and thrive in small, in-person classes taught by full-time professors who are dedicated to teaching. That’s what we plan to continue to deliver for the Fall semester and beyond.
MM: We closely tracked cases this year, and with the precautions in place we haven't had a single instance of the virus spreading through classrooms or academic settings. That’s a testament to the team that spent the summer prepping classrooms and the commitment of professors, staff, and students to follow the guidelines and keep our academic buildings safe. I expect we will have some health-related guidelines still in place that will keep those academic buildings as safe in the Fall as they were this academic year.
Will students have the option of taking fully online classes if they wish?
LS: When they register for classes, undergraduate students have the option to search for classes with different meeting times and methods, though there are typically very few online-only classes. We anticipate it will be extremely rare for us to make accommodations for a student to attend their scheduled in-person classes remotely. We believe in the power of a residential academic community, and we know that our students learn better that way. Students with questions about this can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What about campus life and some of the traditional events that students look forward to?
MM: We are planning for the GAME, Oktoberfest, Parents Weekend, and some of the other events we traditionally hold in the Fall to take place in-person in some form. Exactly what that will look like may still depend on the broader situation and guidance in the fall, and we’ll of course be attentive to that. But after this past year, we appreciate even more how important being together is, so in fact we will be placing extra effort next year on making the most of those opportunities, ensuring those traditions go forward more strongly than ever. The same is very much true for clubs and organizations, where we hope and expect we’ll be much closer to the normal experience when it comes to meetings and gatherings.
Will students still have to wear masks in classrooms and keep socially distanced in the Fall?
LS: We just don’t know yet, but we anticipate there will be guidelines developed in close consultation with experts and Commonwealth authorities including Virginia Department of Health officials. We will communicate specifics as soon as we can.
MM: It’s important to know that we communicate with the health department on a daily basis, and work in lockstep with them for our community health. As vaccines become more broadly available this spring and summer, the guidance can change rapidly. We’ll continue that relationship through the summer as we finalize our plans for Fall.
Will students be required to have a Covid-19 vaccine to attend Longwood in the fall?
MM: Currently, Virginia public universities like Longwood cannot require Covid-19 vaccinations because they are approved under an FDA emergency-use protocol. For now, we are certainly encouraging students to get vaccinated when they can and are working with the state to try to help them do so. Gov. Northam has opened up pre-registration to all Virginia residents 16-64 years old to begin vaccinations on April 18, and we urge students to pre-register and receive a vaccine. We will continue to communicate about vaccinations in the weeks ahead.