January 13: Presidents' Message to Parents
We begin by expressing how hopeful we are in this new year for our College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University families, our learning community and our nation. The values of Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s will see us through these difficult times. Our students and families, faculty, administration and staff will succeed, together.
We write to share our approach to COVID-19 for the spring semester. We have learned a lot from our fall experiences and are eager to apply these lessons in the spring semester.
Responding to the threat of COVID-19 during the fall semester was a challenging time for our learning community. We are proud of our successes. We did not have any cases of COVID-19 transmitted in the classroom. Our students followed protocol, wearing masks and keeping social distance in the classroom, dining facilities and libraries. And we withstood a significant surge in cases following the Halloween weekend.
Our approach for the spring semester is three-fold: testing more often and more effectively; focusing on containing cases to avoid surges; and keeping our students on campus, and safer, through more activities and engagement.
The most important step for the spring semester is testing more often and more strategically. In the fall, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) asked colleges and universities to conserve testing supplies, ensuring these supplies would be focused on those most at risk. For the spring, more tests are expected to be available, allowing us to test more frequently.
We are requiring all students living on campus or participating in on-campus classes or activities to submit a negative COVID-19 test before classes resume on January 25. Sometime after the first week of classes, students will be tested again. This test will give us a baseline from which we will construct a program of targeted, frequent testing.
In addition, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) will be conducting winter sports in February and there are plans to conduct spring sports. We hope fall sports will also be offered in the spring. These decisions will be made sometime in February. To compete, our student athletes will be tested frequently, as required by the NCAA. With our own initiatives and those required by the NCAA, there will be considerable testing during spring semester and this testing will greatly assist in precluding surges.
One of our primary objectives is to eliminate surges in cases. As part of our targeted program, we will be testing specific groups (for example, residence halls) to identify potential surges and thwart them before they get started.
Student behavior will be the critical factor in our success. The CSB and SJU staff will be working with students to prevent surges. In the fall, we communicated changes in the situation by tightening restrictions. This semester we will work with students to help them better understand the COVID-19 situation on campus. We expect our students to play an active role in adopting healthy practices, and we will do so by communicating and working closely with them. Be assured that keeping our campus safe is our highest priority.
Some of the universities that have been most successful in combating the virus kept students on campus and away from large public gatherings. In the spring semester, we are offering more opportunities for student clubs, programs, and organizations to meet in person, while still being compliant with COVID-19 mitigation measures. These activities will include intramurals. We are also expanding visitation policies with buses running later in the evening.
Both Saint John’s and Saint Ben’s are stressing outdoor events, which are safer. We are building outdoor skating rinks on the Tundra and Mall, respectively. We will be encouraging more outdoor activities, such as cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoeing in the Arboretum and ice fishing on Lake Sagatagan. Saint Ben’s has built a new lighted patio next to the Benedicta Arts Center for outdoor activities and a new gas fire pit outside Mary Commons. O’Connell’s is being renovated for indoor events.
These policies – more strategic testing, vigilance against surges, and more effective student participation in prevention – will help our students have a safe, enjoyable, and engaging spring semester.
Thank you for your patience and support during this pandemic. We are succeeding because all students and families, faculty, administration and staff are working together.
Laurie Hamen, J.D.