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SMC goes online in wake of coronavirus

Saint Michael’s College (SMC) has cancelled all campus events and will move to online courses after students return from spring break in the wake of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

According to a statement from SMC president Lorraine Sterritt made on March 11, online instruction will begin when students return from spring break—extended two days—on March 25 and will continue until at least April 13. She noted this could be extended further based on recommendations from health agencies. All events on campus have been cancelled until at least April 14 effective immediately, including all athletic events, lectures, performances and other large gatherings.

“This situation is unprecedented, and we ask for your patience,” she said in the statement.

While young people are less likely to show severe symptoms of the disease than elderly people or folks with underlying health conditions, the disease manifests in other ways—socially, economically and academically.

Peter Nasca, a senior at SMC, is from northern Vermont and doesn’t have far to trek after spring break ends and the campus closes. However, he said housing is one of the biggest concerns he’s heard from peers regarding the effect of the coronavirus. (Disclosure: This author knows Nasca personally.)

“It’s a little bit like getting evicted out of the blue—you have a house, a job, maybe some gigs,” said Nasca. “Some of my friends have jobs here [but are not from here] so it’s a big issue if they get kicked off campus.”

In her statement, Sterritt noted exceptions will be made for students who cannot return home during or after spring break, but students will be required to remain on campus, avoid travel and practice “social distancing.”

SMC senior Ziteng Yang lives on campus and plans to stay in the dorms during spring break. He’s not too worried about having to leave campus but isn’t thrilled about the upcoming online instruction.

“I’m really suspicious about going online,” Yang said laughing. “I prefer to meet face to face.” In the meantime, Yang intends to dive into writing five lengthy papers and to catch up on sleep.

Nasca is less nervous about online instruction, although he noted it might be a challenge for teachers who aren’t tech-savvy. “I like lectures as much as the next guy but a lot of learning doesn’t happen in the classroom, especially when you get to college,” he said. “Teachers are definitely worried about the learning environment. This is new territory for a lot of them.”

Schools in Williston and Windam districts closed temporarily last week “out of an abundance of caution,” according to officials in the school district, but have since reopened. The University of Vermont, Champlain College and Vermont Law School will also move to online instruction in the next few weeks.

“We recognize the disappointment that students, their families, and all of our community members are experiencing in response to this situation,” said Sterrit. “Our decisions were not made lightly, and they reflect the care and concern of the administration, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, and the staff of the College. Please know that we will do all that we can to continue to support our students, faculty, and staff and to answer your questions as they arise.”

Sterrit ended her statement by saying: “At Saint Michael’s, we come together in challenging times. Our team has been working tirelessly to make plans for our students’ education and for the health and safety of our community. We will continue to work together on your behalf.”

For urgent questions regarding coronavirus updates at SMC, call (802) 654-2002; available from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Selectboard reorganizes post-election

At a reorganization meeting following Town Meeting Day, the Colchester selectboard voted to maintain the status quo.

Selectboard member Pamela Loranger moved to reelect positions as is: Jeff Bartley as Chair, Tom Mulcahy as Vice Chair and Jacki Murphy as Clerk. The motion passed unanimously.

The meeting on March 10 was kept short with little on the agenda. Some notable points from the the Town Manager’s Report which Aaron Frank presented included updates on the Colchester Causeway repairs, flood insurance information, stormwater improvements in Shore Acres, and monthly numbers for Parks and Recreation and the Burnham Memorial Library.

Construction of the Colchester Causeway is ongoing; Frank said guide rock is now being installed. Depending on the weather, the Causeway is set to open by Memorial Day weekend. Likewise, stormwater improvements are underway in the Shore Acres neighborhood, in addition to a phosphorus control plan. Fourteen summer programs at Parks and Recreation have already been filled in preparation for the approaching warmer months but Frank said there are still spots open. At the Burnham Memorial Library, a weekly program has helped 88 seniors fill out their taxes.

The next selectboard meeting is on Tuesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m.