UW file

University of Wyoming students walk and bicycle past the Wyoming Union. Laramie Boomerang/file

LARAMIE – Students at the University of Wyoming won’t be heading to Florida – or anywhere else – for spring break next March.

That’s because Wyoming’s only public four-year university in Laramie is following the lead of some in other states and canceling its traditional weeklong spring break, which was scheduled for March 15-19, 2021, in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In order for us to retain our full semester, spring break will be turned into instructional days,” Tami Benham-Deal, vice provost for academic personnel, told the UW Board of Trustees at a virtual meeting Wednesday morning.

The university will start the spring semester of 2021 on Jan. 25, which is a week later than usual.

“I understand the need to end the semester on time. I was just under the impression that you all were kind of saving this for a conversation in the future,” said Riley Talamantes, president of the Associated Student of UW, who acknowledged the need to finalize next year’s plan soon. “Spring break, and even just a three-day weekend, I think is really crucial for students and faculty to help maintain their wellbeing and mental health.”

Anne Alexander, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that while the decision to eliminate spring break has already been approved by UW President Ed Seidel, the university will close for Presidents Day in February.

“I hope that helps,” Alexander said.

“We’re trying to weigh so many factors here: everybody’s need for mental health and break, and the wish that we won’t send out or bring the virus back during spring break. We tried to make that decision within enough time so that people could make their plans. Hopefully Presidents Day will make up for it a bit.”

To date, the virus has killed 57 Wyomingites and 216,000 total Americans. In the past couple of weeks, the state and the areas in and around Laramie and Albany counties have seen spikes in the number of positive cases.

According to UW’s online COVID-19 dashboard, as of Tuesday, the university reported 96 active student cases, with 32 of those tracked to on-campus students.

The spring break scheduling change is one of many modifications the university has had to make since the onset of the pandemic.

Last March, UW joined schools and colleges across the country when it closed all in-person learning as part of a coordinated effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Over the summer, the university consulted government and health officials to produce a multi-phase reopening plan.

During the first weeks of the semester, classes were held almost completely online. A spike in cases early in the semester caused the university to pause its move into phase-two operations, which included some limited in-person instruction. On Sept. 28, UW moved to phase three, which includes more face-to-face instruction, as well as increased precautionary measures and surveillance testing.

Undergraduate students are tested twice a week, and graduate students are tested once a week. Students who do not comply will be asked to attend classes online.

An estimated 15,000 tests a week will be administered through the remainder of in-person learning this semester. The university is currently contracting out some of those tests, but is planning to have all testing done at an in-house lab by spring.

The university will also test all students during the week prior to Thanksgiving break because, as Benham-Deal put it, “it’s not our intent to send students who are positive back into their communities.”

She said the university is still finalizing its plan for how to handle any students who do test positive ahead of the break. Regardless, when students do leave campus for Thanksgiving break, they won’t be returning for in-person instruction until the start of the spring semester.

Although there won’t be a spring break this year, 60% of classes during the upcoming spring semester will include a face-to-face component in a socially distanced setting, compared to 50% scheduled that way this fall.

‘We’re doing everything to keep this ship afloat,” said Benham-Deal, who noted the university’s stark awareness of the challenges of online learning and teaching this fall. “While we’re keeping this ship afloat, we are continuing to keep an eye on our students and faculty, and providing as much support as we can.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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