The College of William and Mary has just released its calendar plan for the spring semester with the largest announcement consisting of the decision to keep the semester at the same length, as well as provide six nonconsecutive spring break days.
Yes, it is true that the College cannot send everyone home over spring break as they would in any “normal” semester. Already, we’re seeing COVID-19 cases rising once again across the country, and the idea of sending students out to who-knows-where for a week only to bring them right back is definitely a recipe for disaster. At first, I thought of the idea of the College simply holding a week of no classes on campus itself, but there is no surefire method of ensuring that everyone remains in Williamsburg during that time.
The point is that a spring break, in whatever form the College deems fit, is absolutely vital for the upcoming semester. No reasonable person going through this fall semester would suggest leaving out a break again, especially given how it was compounded with the ludicrous idea of requiring professors to teach the same amount of content in a compressed semester. And if both of the above plans would fail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, then this new plan of six scattered days of spring break is what we’ve got to work with … but that’s not enough to curb my skepticism, and I’m sure that I’m not alone.
According to the College, no classes will meet on these assigned spring break days which — with the exception of two back-to-back days in April, which I’ll get back to — are all approximately two to three weeks apart. Additionally, no assignments are due on these days and no exams are scheduled. So, what’s to stop a professor from scheduling an exam on the very next day? What’s to prevent an assignment from requiring submission at midnight the night before one of these spring break days?
Alright, alright, maybe such accusations are a little unfair to our professors. After all, they’ve witnessed firsthand the difficulties faced by students trying to learn in the brave new world of COVID-19. Well, unless the administration is willing to extend the no-fly zone for deadlines by at least two days on either side of these spring break days, there really is nothing to guarantee that these days for students “to simply unplug and rest” will not just turn into disguised “Procrastination Sundays” to which we are all accustomed. If there is even a possibility of professors holding exams and due dates for assignments the days before and following these breaks, then their entire purpose is compromised at the cost of chances for students to relieve themselves of building stress and anxiety. The stakes are high to accept anything less than certainty this time.
Let’s get back to those two back-to-back days in April, April 6 and 7: a Tuesday and a Wednesday. These days almost immediately follow the weekend of Easter Sunday, a major holiday observed by many students on campus. With only a day of insurance in between Easter weekend and these two consecutive break days, does the College truly believe that some students will not simply suffer the absence on Monday to spend up to five days with their families at home during a major holiday? If the College truly wishes to prevent the possibility of extended student travel, then this is a major flaw in the plan that requires immediate attention.
I believe that the above corrections to the College’s current plans for spring break are crucial, and I encourage those who agree to forward these changes to however many people necessary until they are put in place. I have seen too many friends and colleagues suffer from a lack of any meaningful breaks this fall semester, and if six non-consecutive days are the safest way to ensure a break next spring, then so be it. However, these days will amount to almost nothing if meaningful safeguards are not placed to prevent student anxiety and prevent neglect of the Healthy Together commitment from those who would risk the spread of COVID-19 to the College. If the College wishes to truly serve as an advocate for its students’ mental health, then these are the tools, and now is the time.
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