St. Olaf College | COVID-19

August 17, 2020 at 6:28 p.m.

Provost’s August 17 Update

To St. Olaf College faculty and staffFrom Provost and Dean of the College Marci Sortor

Dear Colleagues,

You are now in the very final stages of preparing your courses, programs, offices and learning spaces for students’ arrival. First-year students arrived at the residence halls this Saturday. The energy on move-in day was as positive as in other years, albeit with masks and distancing. This is, still, an exciting time.

This message will cover:

  • Testing and quarantine
  • Classroom preparations
  • Rule-setting for in person and virtual classroom behavior.

Testing and Quarantine

Check out the related FAQs, which will be updated as we know more (and as we get new questions). We want testing to be robust and the results useful. Students will need to quarantine upon arrival (and being tested).  That means initial meetings with your classes will have to be remote. Classes can begin to meet in person starting September 3.  Most student work will need to wait until then, too. Ultimately, I think we’ll appreciate this new measure of caution, but it unquestionably presents an additional complication for professors and supervisors.

There is plenty of information in the FAQs about the tests and the steps we expect to take if (more likely, when) a student tests positive or is exposed. Moreover, we can expect that some procedures and guidelines will change as we learn more about the disease and its spread. Briefly:

  • If a student tests positive for the coronavirus, Residence Life will place the student in isolation in a house or other location designated for this purpose. Students will have a case manager, who will work with the student and their professors and supervisors. If you are the student’s professor, you can expect the student to reach out to you regarding continuing their studies, should they feel well enough to do so.
  • Any student or employee testing positive will be contacted by a trained contact tracer.


  • The Minnesota Department of Health stipulates that exposure has taken place in cases where individuals who have been within less than 6 feet for more than 15 minutes.
  • Once classes begin, should a student test positive for COVID, a contact tracer will reach out to anyone who has been exposed in your class.  Exposed students will need to self-quarantine for 14 days and will need to work with you to keep up with your class.
  • Should you be exposed, you will need to self-quarantine for 14 days and teach your courses remotely.  You should contact your chair immediately. If you are teaching in-person/hybrid courses, you should also alert your area Academic Administrative Assistant.
  • Should you test positive for the coronavirus, you will be required to self-isolate. Faculty members, you should alert your chair and discuss options for continuation of your courses. You are welcome to continue to teach your courses remotely if you feel well enough to do so, but you and your chair should also discuss who can take over your courses if needed. Staff members, you should contact your supervisor. Also,

In the classroom – furniture and space

  • Classroom furniture is arranged to meet distancing requirements.
  • Please consider keeping record of student seating arrangements (which will be helpful for contact tracers).
  • Professors are free to adjust the furniture arrangements as long as 6-foot distancing between students is maintained and furniture is returned to its original floor markings at the end of class.
  • A poster summarizing health guidelines will be posted in each classroom.
  • A hand sanitizer station will be located outside of each classroom.
  • Cleaning supplies will be available in each classroom for those who wish to use them.

Unfortunately, observing the physical distancing rules will present constraints on how you conduct in-person class activities. I encourage you to continue to consult with Ben Gottfried and his team in Instructional Technology about virtual options for some activities. Starting the year with the quarantine will provide some extra time to become familiar with classroom technology and layouts.

Community Standards and the Classroom (and other learning environments)

Karil Kucera sent to the faculty a link to a St. Olaf 101: Helping Students Thrive new Moodle server.  It is a rich resource for syllabus design and communication strategies. You will want to look at the “St. Olaf 101” materials.  Here are some additional tips:

  • Include in your syllabus the Community Standards (see the St. Olaf 101 Moodle server). Review the items pertinent for your classroom with students as part of the introduction to the course.
  • Regarding mask wearing and maintaining physical distancing:
    • Include in your syllabus a statement that describes the consequences of failure to wear a mask or maintain physical distance in the classroom. Be sure to go over this part of the syllabus in your first meeting with students.
    • There are two approaches to the case of a student who is forgetful but willing to wear a mask.
      • The Dean of Students advises simply instructing the student to leave, and to return when they are wearing one. She advises that this is not a matter to debate with the student, and that this should be addressed in the syllabus as your policy.
      • Another option is to have some additional paper masks on hand for forgetful students.
      • You should determine which is most feasible for your courses, and state this as your policy regarding masks.
    • If a student refuses to wear a mask and refuses to leave the room, simply dismiss the class.
      • Be sure to include this policy in the syllabus.
      • Notify Student Life. Student Life has an established process for addressing violations of the Student Code, and this will be applied in these cases.
      • Notify your chair and the provost.
      • Reach out to your class with information about how the work for the day will be covered.

If things are different for you, they are for students as well!

And students do not have as deep a well of experience from which to draw as you do.

  • Start things off with clear directions for the beginning of the term, keeping in mind students’ need to quarantine upon arrival to campus.
  • Revisit your attendance policies in light of potential health-related disruptions linked to the need for students to quarantine or isolate. What happens in your classes is important, and you also want to make sure that students are confident that they can complete their course work if they are instructed to stay home. You may want to consider ways to measure student engagement that are not dependent upon attendance.
  • Stick with the class meeting times in the Class and Lab.
  • Some of your fall semester students had a very successful online experience last spring. Others did not. Keep in mind this difference in experience as you launch your course. Some of the concerns that students have shared regarding their spring online experiences are relatively easily addressed:
    • Changing class meeting times (and creating conflicts with other courses or obligations)
    • Insufficient opportunities to connect with professors and fellow students
    • Insufficient opportunities to meet with the professor; an uncommunicative professor
    • Lectures, assignments, or other class materials posted late
    • Multiple applications and platforms.
  • Some assumptions that are reasonable when students are living and studying on campus may not be as applicable for students who are attempting to complete their course work remotely. Getting material in, accessing course information, attending class may all present extra challenges to someone with a poor internet connection or with family obligations. If a student seems less engaged than they should be, it’s probably worth asking the student what may be the cause.
  • All four years of students are coming to us after a disrupted spring. The amount of review and the speed of the first several meetings may need to be adjusted in light of the fact that students’ learning environments were less than optimal last spring.
  • Our students are also coming to us with the summer’s protests and an upcoming election on their minds.
    • Pay particular attention to classroom dynamics. If something potentially hurtful or biased is said in the class, be sure to address it in class no later than the next meeting.
    • Remember that not everyone may share the same views about political candidates or party platforms.
    • Issues of race and systemic racism are likely to have particular salience in your courses, perhaps in ways not previously explored. Give some thought in advance as to how you want to address these topics in your courses.

Please accept my best wishes for a good semester. Thank you for everything that you are doing.