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UMBC announces plans for online spring semester

In an email sent last Friday, University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski announced that the spring 2021 semester will be held primarily online. The university’s plan for the spring includes a slight uptick in the number of residential students and in the number of hybrid and in-person classes.

“We’ve had a successful fall, both in person and remotely for our students,” said Vice President for Administration and Finance Lynne Schaefer. “So given all those factors and epidemiologists’ and virologists’ anticipation that cold weather might lead to further spikes in infections, we thought we’re just going to stick with our plans with a mostly remote spring semester.”

UMBC’s plan for the spring semester is similar to that for the current fall semester. There will be a limited number of students, staff and faculty permitted on campus, all of whom will need to follow testing, symptom tracking, masking and social distancing guidelines. All dorms will continue to house one student per room with only two students sharing a bathroom. The majority of classes will be held remotely, with a selection that meet the risk assessment requirements held in-person or in a hybrid format.

The risk assessment requirements include, but are not limited to: the requirement of the course for graduation, courses where research can only be conducted on campus and the need for special facilities to complete the course. These selected courses are then reviewed by experts on public health, facilities, and environmental safety and health to determine whether the classes can be held safely on campus. Schaefer explained that, as with the fall semester, the majority of hybrid or in-person classes will be STEM and performance classes that require on-campus facilities to complete.

The reason for increasing the number of residential students is the availability of rooms in UMBC dorms. Schaefer stated that some rooms stood empty this fall and that UMBC is willing to fill them as long as students want to live on campus. However, Residential Life will continue to give priority to students with in-person classes whose commute is too long to get to campus, to international students and to students who demonstrate that living at home would be a hardship for them.

The decision to have an online spring semester did not surprise students. Junior Psychology major Jordan McDougall said that she understands that it is not safe to come back to campus, but is still sad to be online in the spring.

“Given Maryland’s COVID numbers and the amount of commuters at UMBC, I don’t think it’s safe for us to go back in the spring,” said McDougall. “So, I’m glad that UMBC made what I think is the right choice by having us majorly online for the spring, even though I’m sad to have a year of college experience taken away.”

In the announcement email, Dr. Hrabowski sympathized with the many students who are tired of online learning and wish for things to “return to normal.” Still, he emphasized the need to maintain the safety protocols developed for the fall semester through the spring.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we know that many of you are experiencing fatigue and wondering when we can return to normal,” Dr. Hrabowski wrote. “However, we also know that this crisis has not passed and public health experts expect high transmission numbers well into the spring.”

Schaefer stated that any opinions regarding UMBC’s plan for an online spring semester can be submitted to where they will then be forwarded to the appropriate office to handle the concern. In addition, there will be three community town halls held Nov. 4, Nov. 10 and Nov. 17 where students, staff and faculty can give feedback on the university’s plans.

“The voices of students, parents, faculty and staff are really important for informing how we do things,” said Schaefer. “And I hope that people continue to be willing to let us know how they think things are going and what challenges they’re having so we can see if there are ways that we can help.”