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Colleges prepare for a new year

As local school districts establish their masking and COVID policies for this coming school year, the area’s institutions of higher learning are also preparing for students to return.

The semester, it seems, will be characterized by both long standing traditions as well as remnants of the mitigation efforts brought on by the pandemic.

A topic of much debate among both school districts and colleges across the commonwealth has been the subject of face coverings for students.

According to Hampden-Sydney College (H-SC) Director of Communications and Marketing Gordon Neal, H-SC students who do not submit a vaccination record must wear masks indoors and when in close proximity to others. Unvaccinated students, he added, will also be subject to weekly testing.

Neal said only students who have provided a vaccination record may participate in intramural or club sports at the college. Additionally, faculty members may, at their own discretion, require all students in their classroom to wear a mask.

Monday, Aug. 2, Neal noted H-SC intends for classes to be taught in-person and in the classroom, as was the case during the 2020-21 academic year.

“Hampden-Sydney classes are typically small and will remain so this year,” he said.

Neal added Monday that while policies are subject to change given uncertainties surrounding the future of the pandemic, the college will be more open to visitors this coming year.

“We do expect those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask and maintain social distance when they are indoors or in close proximity to others,” he added. “The college will continue to monitor federal, state, and local guidelines, make adjustments accordingly and remain vigilant in following precautions that minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

Classes for H-SC are scheduled to begin Aug. 23.

Longwood University, according to Assistant Vice President of Communications Matt McWilliams, will be requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for students this year, although there is a pathway to a religious or medical exemption from the requirement.

McWilliams said the school continues to stay in close contact with state and local health officials as it prepares for the start of a new semester.

According to McWilliams, students, faculty and staff who are vaccinated are not required to wear a face covering on campus and are not limited in any activities. Longwood students who are not vaccinated are required to wear face coverings inside all classrooms and when around others, and employees who are not vaccinated are encouraged to do the same.

“There may be other limitations or guidelines that those who are not vaccinated will need to follow,” he added. “We have said all along that the key to a normal semester is as many students and staff vaccinated as possible, and we continue to encourage students to schedule a vaccination appointment. We have begun collecting student data on vaccination status and will continue to do that in the weeks ahead. Students who claim a religious or medical exemption agree to be tested and will face other restrictions while on campus.”

McWilliams said Longwood is planning for a full slate of in-person classes at normal capacity this semester, and current guidance states only unvaccinated students need to wear face coverings.

Additionally, there are no online options for students enrolled in in-person classes this year.

ARC Hall will be available again this semester if needed to support students in isolation or quarantine.

And while the university is planning for a more normal semester with traditional student- and family-engagement events such as convocation, family weekend and Oktoberfest, how those events will operate will depend on current conditions and guidance from health officials.

“We are excited to welcome back students to another semester of learning in-person,” McWilliams said. “New student move-In is Aug. 19, and undergraduate classes begin Aug. 23.”