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Penn State delays start of in-person learning for spring semester due to COVID-19 pandemic

Students at all campus locations will begin remote instruction on Jan. 19. The school hopes to resume in-person learning at all campuses on Feb. 15.
Penn State University

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State University announced Friday that the start of in-person classes for the Spring 2021 semester at all campus locations has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and students will begin the semester learning remotely.

"This decision was made following extensive analysis and scenario planning given worsening virus conditions nationally and across the state indicating predictions of rising hospitalization rates in the coming weeks," the university said Friday in a press release.

Remote learning will begin at all campuses on Jan. 19 and will continue through Feb. 12, the university said.

In-person learning is expected to resume at all campus locations on Feb. 15, though the date could change based on health and safety factors and guidance from the state, the university said.

As currently scheduled, the 15-week semester will end on April 30, with finals week following from May 3-7, the school said.

“While we know this creates a number of challenges for our community, we are very concerned with the current outlook across the country and the commonwealth and believe this is the most responsible way to begin our semester," university president Eric J. Barron said in the announcement. "Shifting to a remote start has been a scenario we have been preparing for by building flexibility into every level of our operations in order to prioritize our students’ academic achievement.

“Right now, prevalence rates and hospitalizations are moving in the wrong direction. We hope that will change, as we recognize the critical importance of a return to on-campus learning and to being able to offer in-person experiences that are not currently possible. We are committed to bringing our students back to our campuses, and in accordance with state and federal guidance.”

Penn State said delaying the return to campus of students during a nationwide resurgence of cases will help protect both the health and safety of the Penn State and local communities. 

"This delay will allow many front-line healthcare workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and help protect these personnel both on and off our campuses," the university said.

This decision is also in alignment with the recent health and safety recommendations for higher education institutions from Pennsylvania’s departments of Health and Education, according to the university.

Students are strongly discouraged from returning to campus, off-campus locations, and group dwellings (e.g., apartments and fraternities) during the four weeks of the remote period, the university said. 

That said, the university added in its announcement, Penn State recognizes many students live off campus in the communities surrounding the campuses and must return for work-related reasons and other important circumstances. 

Off-campus students who are returning to their campus community before Feb. 15 are required to be tested before their arrival, the university said.

In addition, students in select professional programs will return to their campuses for in-person academic programs, the school said. These students will be contacted by their academic leaders, and also will be required to participate in COVID-19 testing prior to their return to their campus.

The university said it will remain open for faculty and staff during the remote learning period, however employees who are currently teleworking should continue to do so, unless directed by their supervisor to return to on-campus work. 

During the remote learning period, the Penn State asks all to be creative and work to reschedule or offer events virtually through Feb. 12, including student-sponsored meetings and activities.