Winona State University announced the cancellation of its 2021 Spring Break on Nov. 5 through an email sent to all students by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Darrell Newton.
The email stated the cancellation was made “as part of our [Winona State’s] ongoing efforts to keep our community safe and reduce the potential spread of COVID-19”.
The news comes less than a month after the university sent out surveys to its students to gauge opinions on several different options for Spring Break.
Winona State’s Student Senate also gathered input from students via social media.
Three options were given in the Spring Break survey sent out by the university: keeping Spring Break as scheduled and requiring a two-week campus quarantine after Break; no Spring Break, ending the semester five days early; no Spring Break, instead spreading the five days off throughout the Spring semester and ending the school year as scheduled.
The email from Nov. 5, however, announced an option not given to students in the university survey or by Student Senate’s social media posts: scheduling three “non-class Break Days” in place of the original five-day long Spring Break.
The email said those three “non-class Break Days” were already scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 10, Tuesday, Mar. 9 and Wednesday, Mar. 31.
However, Newton said the exact dates for the three “non-class” days are still being finalized with the help of Winona State’s Faculty Association.
These days may not truly be “non-class” breaks for all students since, as stated in the announcement email, students in graduate level courses, clinicals, field experiences, internships and practicums may still have commitments.
Originally, Spring Break was scheduled to occur Mar. 8 to Mar. 12, 2021.
This shift in the school year calendar also means Winona State’s Finals Week will occur one week earlier than originally scheduled, now Apr. 26 to Apr. 29.
Despite the school year’s calendar changes, the semester will still end as scheduled on May 7.
Newton said the decision was made after discussion between many individuals, including Student Senate, faculty members, other Provosts from across the state of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health, among others.
“It was determined to be the most prudent thing to do for the safety of our campus community,” Newton said.
Ultimately, the university’s President’s Cabinet made the decision to cancel Spring Break, according to Newton.
Wesley Elford, member of Student Senate and a fourth-year student majoring in cellular and molecular science, confirmed the university will only be giving students three days free of class in place of Spring Break.
“As we have seen in the email from the WSU administration, it seems that they are giving us 3 days that are free from school, but they will be spaced out through the whole semester,” Elford said.
Nov. 5’s email also acknowledged the changes “may not be welcomed by all.”
Student Senate’s Oct. 27 meeting minutes, posted on Winona State’s website, stated Student Senate strongly encouraged Winona State’s administration to provide students with an additional day free of classes to make up for the “lack of mental health relief that is usually [given] during Spring Break.”
Earlier in the fall semester, Winona State implemented a self-imposed two-week quarantine after Labor Day weekend to try and offset the chances of students and faculty spreading COVID after coming back to campus.
According to the university’s email announcing the post-Labor Day weekend quarantine, it was implemented in hopes that it would “flatten the growth in numbers and allow us [Winona State] to resume our semester as planned.”
Elford said Student Senate examined the effects of the post-Labor Day weekend quarantine when considering the cancellation of Spring Break.
“We as a whole looked closely at the effects of the two-week quarantine after Labor Day,” Elford said. “From what we have seen with the numbers of cases, the Labor Day quarantine was successful at lowering the numbers of the COVID-19 virus.”
This time around, Student Senate decided another self-imposed two-week quarantine after Spring Break would be “ineffective and would jeopardize required in-person learning,” according to their Oct. 27 meeting minutes.
However, the final decision to cancel Spring Break came less than a week before Winona State also announced its second self-imposed campus quarantine of the school year would begin on Monday, Nov. 16.
On Nov. 12, Winona State President Scott Olson sent out a campus-wide email stating the Winona State administration had deemed another quarantine necessary due to COVID cases outside of campus.
“This is an evolving situation, and the decision is not based on campus cases but rather the city, county and state-wide situation. We are not currently aware of any serious illness related to COVID-19 within our WSU community,” Olson stated.
The quarantine will limit all “non-essential activities” for 14 days.
In-person classes, work and leaving to get food are considered essential and will be allowed to continue on campus.
The email also cautioned those from travelling over Thanksgiving Break, occurring Nov. 26 through Nov. 28, leading into the weekend.
“We ask that you consider not travelling over the break. If you must travel, we ask that you consider getting tested as soon as possible and quarantining before your departure,” Olson stated.
The email stated “current guidance for college populations” recommends those in the population be tested as soon as possible and again three days prior to travelling.
It also stated those who travel should consider staying wherever their desitination is for the remainder of the semester.
Newton said the announcement of the university’s second self-imposed quarantine was not connected to the decision to cancel Spring Break, nor was the university specifically planning on implementing the quarantine prior to the week of its announcement.
“The announcement of a two-week self-imposed quarantine was determined after conferring with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minn. State System,” Newton said. “The possibility of self-imposed quarantines [has] been discussed in passing by a number of institutions since the outbreak began.”
Newton also said he is not aware of the university facing pressure from the city of Winona to cancel Spring Break or implement further campus quarantines.
Elford said he believes the university is trying to make the best decision regarding Spring Break it can, keeping COVID in mind, but still took issue with the decision.
“I have talked to my peers that are students at WSU. Many of the students that I have talked to have stated that they have already planned trips during the [now cancelled] Spring Break week,” Elford said. “My concern is that students will still travel with classes being online and the ability to participate in classes anywhere with Wi-Fi.”
Elford also said he had concerns about the university’s email announcing Spring Break’s cancellation, as well as its potential to affect students’ financial aid, during Student Senate’s Oct. 27 meeting.
“I wanted the whole Student Senate to understand the possible technological and financial aid issues that could occur,” Elford said. “I do know that WSU is trying their best to protect the safety of their students while also preventing any issues that may occur with the change of Spring Break.”
Elford also said he personally has not heard any feedback, positive or negative, on the decision to cancel Spring Break from students, faculty or families of either.
Student Senate President Clara Kuerschner did not respond to The Winonan to comment on the situation.