President McConnell’s message on Spring Semester schedule

Editor’s note: This message was sent to the entire Colorado State University community on Dec. 17 by President Joyce McConnell.

Dear CSU Community,

As we wrap up the Fall 2020 semester, look forward to a much-needed break, and begin our preparations for the spring, we all recognize the ongoing pandemic and the related uncertainty and challenges. We want to alleviate some of that uncertainty by sharing with all of you our plans for Spring 2021. These plans are the result of intensive, collaborative conversation involving leaders, experts, and stakeholders from across the university and have been approved by both our own Pandemic Preparedness Team and Larimer County Public Health.

Below is a high-level overview of the Spring 2021 semester, focused on how the semester will start. This overview includes answers to some of the general questions we anticipate many of you will have. More information will be forthcoming in early 2021, from the President or Provost, the Pandemic Preparedness Team, the colleges and departments, and other relevant units. And in the intervening weeks, we hope you all enjoy Winter Break with your families.

Phased Spring 2021 Schedule

Phase 1 – Jan. 19-22 (First Week of Classes): All courses will begin online.

Phase 2 – Jan. 25 (Second Week of Classes): Selected courses with high priority for in-person learning will shift from online to face-to-face (100% in-person).

Phase 3 – Early February: On Feb. 5, faculty scheduled to teach courses in the hybrid modality will be updated on the status of course transition from 100% remote to hybrid (introducing a face-to-face component) based on Larimer County Public Health guidelines.

All currently scheduled online courses will remain online for the entire semester.


Why are we starting the semester online?

Our primary priority is the health of the university community, and we know that the pandemic is predicted by national public health experts to be at a peak in January. Starting all classes online in January will allow us to bring students to campus during a period of time when they have no scheduled in-person academic interactions; test them for COVID; then account for the waiting period after testing to see if they are positive. Our goal is for all students to walk into our classrooms, labs, or other learning spaces only after having gotten a negative COVID test from the CSU testing site.

To further help with this phased-in approach to on-campus life for Spring 2021, the university’s residence halls will open on Jan. 14. Information on how to register for a move-in timeslot will be sent directly to all students living in the residence halls. COVID testing will also be available for the entire university community over Winter Break. Read more about these protocols here.

Starting the first week online will also give the Pandemic Preparedness Team additional time to assess local COVID case numbers and evolving public health advice and to complete all initial testing on-campus for students, faculty and staff.

Finally, starting online will allow our staff in key areas such as Facilities and research labs additional time to prepare campuses for the semester; pandemic public health precautions like spaced-out classroom set-ups and cleaning protocols require significant additional work on top of the regular work that we do to prepare for a normal semester.

If there are so many obstacles to in-person classes in January, why not just delay the semester?

We are committed to our scheduled Jan. 19 start date to the semester for several reasons, including federal financial aid guidelines that tie the release of aid to the start of the semester and the required number of student contact teaching days associated with our accreditation status.

Finally, we know that many students have leases to which they are already obligated. Delaying the start of the semester could put an undue financial burden on them.

Which courses will transition in Phase 2 to their already scheduled in-person component?  How were these courses identified?

The courses that will be offered on campus in Phase 2 beginning on January 25 will be those currently scheduled for 100% in-person delivery in Spring 2021. These courses were previously identified by the university’s Teaching and Learning Recovery Team, in close collaboration with college and departmental leadership. They include courses most dependent on the in-person teaching mode to promote student success and most time-sensitive as in-person courses for students at key moments in their college careers: their first year and their last semester. This means we prioritized first-year courses, labs, studio courses, maker spaces, engineering design, and senior small-section classes for the early transition to the in-person mode.

How do I know if any of my courses are transitioning in Phase 2?

If you are taking or teaching a course already scheduled to be delivered as 100% in-person course in Spring 2021, then you can be confident that, barring any counter-directive from the Larimer County Public Health Department, that course will transition to in-person during Phase 2 (on Jan. 25.)  Over the next few weeks and into January, the Pandemic Preparedness Team and the Teaching and Learning Recovery Team will work with college and departmental leadership to monitor the County, state, and national conditions to ascertain the best plan for all course offerings at all levels.  College and unit-level Communicators will help communicate these plans and updates to students, faculty and staff as soon as possible.

Anyone scheduled to teach in person in Spring who wishes to request online teaching instead should speak to their departmental leadership as soon as possible and apply for an exception using the Temporary Work Adjustment form.

If my courses are not scheduled to be either 100% online or 100% in person, when will I know when they ARE going to add an in-person component?

 On Friday, Feb. 5, we will update all faculty, instructors and GTAs scheduled to teach in the hybrid modality as to the status of the course transition from 100% online to including an in-person component. Our decisions will be informed by Larimer County Public Health guidelines. We believe it would be unwise to commit at this time to specific dates for a broader shift to courses with an in-person component for spring.  While experts are predicting a peak surge in mid-January, we just don’t know what to expect in the weeks following.  We want to be flexible and responsive to our community’s needs, recognizing that what we will be permitted to do will be determined by a variety of factors: case rates in the county, campus compliance rates, our capacity to scale up to the testing needs, contact tracing, and other imperatives to maintain public health guidelines and campus safety.

With classes starting online for the first week, what can we expect residence hall move-in to look like?

The residence halls and dining centers will be opening as planned on Jan. 14. Students will need to participate in mandatory COVID testing prior to checking into their rooms, and this timing allows them to receive their test results and then, if needed, complete their quarantine or isolation prior to starting hybrid and in-person classes the week of Jan. 25. More information will be posted on the Housing & Dining website as further decisions are made for the Spring semester.

And what about the later part of the semester?  I have questions about Commencement in particular, and about how the semester is going to end.

The phased start plan will not change the campus approach to the end of the semester. We will adhere to the already-released plan to push Spring Break back to the week of April 12 and shift all classes to remote instruction following that week.  We also plan to adhere to the same end dates for the semester (last day of classes on May 7, exams the following week).

While we wish we could promise an in-person Commencement to our May 2021 graduates, it is unlikely that we will be permitted to host a large in-person gathering on campus at that time. We advise families not to make robust travel plans to come to Fort Collins in May. More information about what the May 2021 Commencement ceremonies and attendant events will look like will be shared with graduates directly in the coming weeks and also posted on CSU’s Commencement site.

What about the vaccine?  When we will get information about how that will impact our Spring semester?  Like, what if I get the vaccine personally?  Or when and where will it be available in Larimer County?  Will it be available on campus?

As many of you know, distribution and delivery of the new COVID-19 vaccines is being coordinated at the state level by the Colorado Department of Public Health.  We remain in close contact with the DPH and will keep our entire university community in the loop on any specific information we learn as we learn it when it comes to the vaccine. At this time, public health guidance is to continue to wear a mask and practice all recommended COVID precautions even if you have gotten the vaccine or are in contact with someone else who has gotten it.

We will also devote future university-wide communications to answering all the questions you may have about the vaccine, when more information is available.  We have set aside time for a Town Hall on this topic and will invite the entire university community when we know more.

This is great but I still have questions!  Where can I get more answers?

We know this is a lot of information – and still a lot of uncertainty – coming on the heels of several very challenging months. We appreciate that you may have questions now and may think of more later. Please start by bookmarking the CSU COVID site and checking it frequently over the next few weeks. We will be posting updates to our Spring 2021 planning, including testing protocols and scheduling details, as soon as we have them.

You can also email specific questions to The team who monitors that account will do their absolute best to get back to you directly or refer you to the right person or office.

When can I expect more communication around the Spring 2021 semester?  Should I be checking email or some other platform?

The university will continue to share updated information about the Spring semester via email messages, social media, and on the CSU COVID site.  The Pandemic Preparedness Team, in cooperation with the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost, will also be holding regular Town Hall meetings this spring to answer questions and address concerns on a variety of COVID topics.  We will hold a Town Hall for the entire university community focused on the Spring 2021 schedule in early January. We will send out the date shortly after the new year.

This message can also be found on the CSU COVID site in its entirety.