WU announces continuation of COVID policies for spring semester; students object to the replacement of spring break with two ‘wellness days’

and | Senior News Editors

Most of Washington University’s COVID-related policies, such as primarily online or hybrid classes, limited in-person gatherings and restricted occupancy in Residential Life housing will continue into the spring semester, according to a Nov. 18 email from Chancellor Andrew Martin and Provost Beverly Wendland.

Christine Watridge | Student Life

“Although our current trends in the region and on campus are certainly of concern, we also should remember that throughout the fall semester we have been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 on our campus,” Martin and Wendland wrote. “Based on what we have learned about how to keep our community healthy, we plan to take a similarly cautious approach to our plans for spring.”

Spring break, which typically entails a full week off from classes in March, has been replaced with two “wellness days” in March and April.

“Instructors will be asked not to schedule exams, quizzes or assignment due dates on the days immediately following the instruction-free days,” Martin and Wendland wrote.

The wellness days are scheduled for Tuesday, March 2 and Wednesday, April 7.

Shortly after the announcement was made, Student Union Senate circulated a petition calling for the number of “wellness days” to be increased to five to match the typical length of spring break.

“We feel that [the] current spring break policy will compromise student mental health and wellbeing,” the petition read. “While we recognize that the dispersion of spring break days is due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 and travel, we do not feel that this justifies reducing the number of break days in the spring 2021 semester.”

The petition had more than 3,100 signatures at the time of publication.

“COVID-19 has had devastating effects on mental health, and it is unacceptable to take away spring break without offering five days of rest throughout the year,” Student Union President sophomore Ranen Miao wrote in a statement to Student Life.

Several other students took to social media to express their dismay at the change, including junior Moriah Johnson, who wrote in a statement to Student Life that she found it discouraging.

“We have had to power through this semester so far during a pandemic, social unrest and a political disaster with no fall break, and it has been taking a toll on the mental health and wellbeing of all of us,” she wrote. “…Days off are our only time to practice self care, virtually connect with friends and family, and complete any outstanding tasks we do not have time to do after a full day of classes.”

Johnson pointed out that students need time off during a normal semester, calling it especially unrealistic to remove that time from a semester when many are dealing with far more than usual.

The first day of spring classes for undergraduate students will be Jan. 26, later than usual to reflect the remote fall finals period that extends until Jan. 10.

Students planning to return to St. Louis in the spring are asked to limit their interactions with others for the fourteen days prior to arriving. Similarly to the fall semester, entry testing will be followed by required tests every two weeks for undergraduate students. Entry testing will be optional for graduate and professional students.

The last day of classes will be May 4, followed by a reading period and finals, May 5-13.

Although a recent spike in COVID-19 cases both on campus and in the St. Louis area prompted Dining Services to suspend in-person dining and the Habif Health and Wellness Center to suspend most routine health care services, the email from Martin and Wendland seemed to indicate that both organizations would return to their original COVID-19 policies in the spring.

The suspension of all non-essential university-sponsored travel will remain in effect. All spring study abroad programs were suspended Oct. 30.

The University has not yet announced any decisions regarding winter and spring sports.

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