Student: Update on Fall 2020 Plans

Dear Students, 

The faculty and staff of Saint Mary’s have been working tirelessly over the past few months preparing for the fall semester. We have been guided in this endeavor by two essential pillars - the health and wellness of our campus community during a global pandemic and offering an outstanding, transformative, and personalized educational experience that changes lives.  

We have developed robust health and safety protocols including screening, testing, and contract tracing capabilities; redesigned classrooms and campus spaces to take advantage of our unique natural and built environment; adopted intensive cleaning and sanitizing procedures; and developed plans to offer our fall classes in a mix of instructional modes, including in-person, hybrid, and online. 

Our plans have always been predicated on both our level of preparedness and the spread and trajectory of the novel coronavirus in our region and state. For the past several weeks, we have been assiduously tracking a series of critical internal and external indicators to guide our decision-making. Unfortunately, although our internal preparedness indicators are positive, the region is continuing to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases and increased testing positivity rates. Accordingly, after consulting with faculty and staff and the Saint Mary’s COVID-19 Response Group, the College’s leadership has determined that it would be unwise to reopen our campus in the way we had planned.  

While interest in on-campus student housing remains extremely high, we regret that we can only accommodate about one-half of our typical capacity to promote a safer residential environment. In addition, the vast majority of our courses will be conducted remotely for the duration of the fall semester, with the exception of select courses designed to meet the particular needs of residential students. While disappointing to many of us – and certainly not the semester we anticipated – the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff must and will always take precedence. 

Amidst these changes, we will provide our signature Lasallian, Catholic, liberal arts education while substantially lowering on-campus housing density and reducing in-person instruction. 

The Academic Experience 

I have the utmost confidence in our exceptional faculty to continue to provide highly personalized instruction, advising, and mentoring. Over the summer they have mastered cutting-edge instructional tools and designed engaging hybrid and online courses and experiences that will challenge and support students’ academic ambitions through rich, responsive learning environments. 

Instruction will be primarily, and for many students exclusively, delivered remotely. We will offer some in-person and hybrid courses for undergraduates living on campus in the following categories: research and labs, studios and performance-based courses, and seminars. We will be making use of newly-developed outdoor classroom spaces and non-traditional classrooms to the extent feasible for those classes and will identify on-campus spaces for residential students to study and participate in remote courses. Students not living on campus will be able to take all of their courses remotely and will have access to all student support services, both remotely and in dedicated College locations expressly designed for their connectivity and study needs. 

Housing and the Student Experience 

We will be reducing the number of students living on campus so that every resident has their own bedroom. Priority assignment of the 868 single-occupancy rooms will be provided to: first-year students, High Potential Program students, international students, Pell-eligible students, students requiring on-campus disability accommodations, students requiring on-campus courses for which there are not remote options, and students who are experiencing housing insecurity and/or technology constraints. 

Students who have applied for housing and have a room assignment will NOT need to re-apply. In the next two days, the Campus Housing Office will email these students with additional information and instructions to confirm their continued interest in university housing for fall 2020. Students should keep an eye out for this communication and confirm their continued interest no later than August 7, 2020. The Campus Housing Office will notify students of their new placement by August 11.  

Students who opt not to pursue university housing, or who do not confirm their continued interest in fall 2020 housing by August 7, 2020, will have their existing housing contract canceled without penalty and their housing prepayment deposit refunded. 

Whether living on campus or off, students can look forward to a wide array of student-centered support services, leadership opportunities, activities, spiritual guidance, and career and professional development opportunities that reflect the transformative whole person education for which Saint Mary’s is known. We have created new and reimagined ways to connect, engage, and get help: from a fully virtual Student Involvement Fair; to online tutoring, advising, and success coaching; to celebrating the faith, heritage, and culture of the Latinx community in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and so much more.  

And, though different, life for on-campus residents this fall promises to be a truly special shared experience, with ample—and gorgeous—outdoor space and opportunities to create unique and powerful ways of being in community together.  

Financial Assistance for Students 

Over the past several months, students and parents have approached us asking for additional help amid challenging financial circumstances. We hear you. Recognizing the increased financial pressures on our students and their families during this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been taking steps to respond to your needs. Over the past several months Saint Mary's has awarded over $2 million in additional financial aid and assistance to students through the President's Emergency Fund, Trustees Scholarships and financial aid appeals. We continue to assist families who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. If your financial situation has changed, please contact the Financial Aid Department for options at finaid@stmarys-ca.edu

A Healthy Campus 

Each of us plays an instrumental role in ensuring that our entire community remains healthy. Each member of the Saint Mary’s community who comes on campus is required to take the Gaels Wellness Pledge and complete a daily health screening using the LiveSafe app. 

Together with enhanced cleaning protocols, reconfigured campus spaces, and careful control of campus access, these community accountability measures aim to prevent the spread of infection. Our robust COVID-19 testing strategy will provide incoming residents with on-site rapid testing upon arrival and again after one week, followed by regular surveillance testing and testing for symptomatic students. Should infection or illness occur, our campus is prepared to respond with rapid contact tracing, dedicated quarantine and isolation spaces, and care plans for residents who test positive or have exposure. Working in close collaboration with Contra Costa County health officials, we will continue to monitor campus and area public health indicators in order to provide timely guidance and updates to all members of our community. 

Moving Forward 

Beginning immediately, members of the Campus Housing Office will reach out to students who have applied for fall 2020 housing with additional information and instructions to confirm their continued interest in living on campus. After the confirmation deadline on August 7, we will begin finalizing fall 2020 room assignments, and notifications of placement will be sent to students by August 11.  

In addition, this week we will be determining which classes will be taught face to face for residential students based on student interest and instructional need. All other classes will transition to fully remote learning. 

Despite the disruptions and hardships caused by COVID-19, I am confident that our Saint Mary’s students will continue to receive an outstanding, personalized education throughout the fall semester. Thank you for your understanding, flexibility, and resilience as we progress toward the beginning of the semester. 

I hope that you and those you love are well and are staying safe and healthy. 

In the spirit of De La Salle,

 
James A. Donahue
President