A return to campus? ‘Extremely unlikely,’ Pitzer admin tells students

A sign for Pitzer College's Scott Hall outside of Scott Hall.
Pitzer College Melvin Oliver allowed for the possibility that students may return for the spring semester. (Regan Rudman • The Student Life)

Pitzer College President Melvin Oliver said it is “extremely unlikely” county officials will let students return to campus for the spring semester in an email to students Tuesday.

The college, though, is exploring ways to bring students back to campus at some point in the spring, Oliver told students.

The email followed two briefings with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, where Pitzer administrators learned that the county “does not plan to loosen restrictions on [institutions of higher education] anytime in the near future,” Oliver said.

“They have indicated that case levels will need to decrease dramatically in order to consider any changes in the current public health guidance for colleges and universities,” Oliver said. 

Under current LA County public health guidance, colleges and universities are restricted to holding the vast majority of classes online and may only provide housing for students with “no alternative housing options.” 

“As of today, it seems extremely unlikely that we will be able to return students to campus and our best and safest course of action is to plan for a remote spring semester,” Oliver said, acknowledging that daily COVID-19 case counts in LA County are at their highest levels ever.

The county reported an all-time high of 6,124 daily cases Monday, breaking a previous record of just over 5,000 the previous week. County residents remain under a limited stay-at-home order, which includes a curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for “non-essential” activities; a separate public health order barred outdoor dining beginning Wednesday evening.

The county is currently in the strictest “purple” tier of the state’s color-coded reopening map and is considering a new stay-at-home order, per a Monday briefing with LACDPH officials. Additionally, public health officials have warned of a spike following Thanksgiving travel, which millions have continued with despite CDC guidance.

Oliver allowed for the possibility that students may return at some point over the course of the spring semester, saying the college is exploring ways to bring back students to campus at some point in the spring.

“We acknowledge that the public health circumstances in our area will need to improve significantly before implementing these plans,” Oliver said. 

In the second half of the email, Oliver called attention to parties thrown over Halloween weekend that resulted in the spread of COVID-19 among Claremont Colleges students, as previously reported by TSL. 

He said it was “disheartening” to learn of the gatherings and that Student Health Services is working with the 5Cs’ student affairs offices to provide support to affected students. Ahead of Thanksgiving travel, SHS is offering free COVID-19 testing for students, he added.

The remaining undergraduate Claremont Colleges have yet to publicly acknowledge the two LACDPH briefings. 

In an email to students Monday, Scripps College officials outlined plans for a return to campus in spring 2021, including contract tracing via an app, same-day COVID-19 testing and alternate return dates — all pending approval from LA County. 

“When state and county guidelines allow institutions of higher education in Los Angeles County to resume on-campus instruction and residential programming, Scripps College will be ready,” Scripps President Lara Tiedens said.

Pomona College administrators have proposed a “waiver or pilot program” to LACDPH officials and previously said they have sought a phased spring reopening in meetings with public health officials, according to an email sent by Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr to students Nov. 19. 

Pomona also convened a COVID-19 Phased Reopening Task Force, made up of several administrators, the chair of the faculty, members of the Faculty Executive Committee, two representatives from the Staff Council and two student body representatives, according to the email.

Harvey Mudd College officials announced reopening plans pending county approval and have set a “go-no-go” date — a date on which they’ll make a final decision on whether students will return in the spring — of Jan. 11, the latest date set by the 5Cs. 

“Please know that the majority of the curriculum will remain remote,” HMC administration said Oct. 20.

Claremont McKenna College President Hiram Chodosh said in October that the college is planning “aggressively” for both remote and in-person instruction and set a final announcement date of Dec. 9. He said, though, that CMC would ask students to write letters to LA County officials “to deliver the strongest advocacy for our community.”

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