For many, the spring semester might seem like a lifetime away, but plans are already in the works for how to deal with the coronavirus during spring 2021. According to Assistant Provost Leslie Zenk, the University will announce the official spring calendar this week.
Academic Affairs originally considered three revisions to the spring calendar, one with spring break and the other two with a few “mental health” days instead. Originally, department chairs and Provost Lorden preferred to cancel spring break in order to reduce the risk of travel-related virus transmission. After strong push back from the student body including a resolution passed by the Student Government Association (SGA), however, it appears the University intends to preserve spring break.
Now, a proposed calendar would start the semester on Jan. 20 as planned with some in-person courses until March 26. Students would have spring break until April 2, after which all courses would be moved online, including final exams May 7-13.
"I believe that the preservation of spring break is absolutely critical for the mental well being and academic success of all students," commented Student Senate Pro Tempore Dick Beekman. "I commend Chancellor Gaber for working with student leaders to find a way to preserve this critical break while also protecting the campus from a COVID-19 wave that could result from holiday travel. These times are difficult, and while there will never be a perfect plan that fully meets the needs of all parties involved, close collaboration between admin, faculty, staff, and students ensures that all voices are being heard. It is my fervent hope that we can continue working together as we continue navigating these difficult times."
During a Fall Planning Advisory Group meeting on Sept. 30, Provost Joan Lorden said she expects next semester to be "not unlike where we are now." This could mean that certain courses like labs and primarily freshmen classes would be offered in-person with the rest taking place online. There is no specific goal for how many courses would have be in-person; however, based off of the fall 2020 semester, the registrar predicted that approximately 13,000 students would have at least one course with a face-to-face component. Students will be to see course delivery format when they register for classes on Nov. 30.
SGA President Tahlieah Sampson told the Niner Times that she appreciates Chancellor Gaber and Provost Lorden including student leaders in the planning process.
"You can tell they value our input and what's best for the student body," Sampson added. "I haven't seen this from other universities."
Where we are now
This draft of the spring 2021 calendar largely mirrors fall 2020, where courses began remotely on Sept. 7 and some classes moved to in-person delivery on Oct. 1. Classes will move back online following Thanksgiving break.
UNC Charlotte has reported 246 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since July 1. The positivity rate for tests conducted by the Student Health Center has remained around 1%. On Oct. 7, Mecklenburg County reported a 4.9% positivity rate, classified as minimal community spread. The plurality of cases are still coming from the 20-39 age group.
On Oct. 2, the University’s wastewater detection program detected the first potential outbreak in an on-campus residence hall. All residents and staff associated with the dorm, Holshouser Hall, were tested and only one person was positive for COVID-19.
Experts warn that cases could worsen before the start of the spring semester with more people staying inside due to the cold weather and the dual threat of the flu. Much could change over the next 14 weeks.
Correction: This article originally said the University had reported 4,082 cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since the fall semester began, which is far off from the actual number of 246 since July 1. The Niner Times regrets this error.