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In lockdown, Halifax universities backtrack on reopening plans

But there’s optimism about a return to in-person learning this September.

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“It is pure joy to write this note about the coming academic year,” University of King’s College president William Lahey wrote in an email to students just last week. (Disclosure: Jonathan Werbitt is a King’s student.) “The good news is that teaching and learning, and our communal life in general, will once again be largely in person this fall.”

At the time Nova Scotia was relatively untroubled by COVID-19 and the vaccination rollout was gaining speed; King’s wasn’t the only local university sharing its optimism about reopening. But with a surge in C19 infections leading to the sudden lockdown of Halifax, universities have revised their plans to gradually reopen over the summer.

Mount Saint Vincent University vice-president Mustansar Nadeem addressed the community yesterday in a public letter. The university will shift recently announced in-person summer classes back online. It will be closing gyms and reducing capacity in the library and archives. Faculty and staff are being encouraged to work from home whenever possible.

Dalhousie University provost and vice-president Frank Harvey also reached out to students, faculty and staff in an open letter on April 22.

“Dalhousie’s planning for the fall, based on vaccine timelines, continues to focus on a return to in-person learning and work, but our immediate concern must be on increasing our efforts to stem the current outbreaks,” he wrote.

Dal will close libraries and gyms across its Halifax campuses for the time being, and will be tightening protocols for students moving out of residences on April 24. Saint Mary’s University has banned in-person meetings on campus and moved its bookstore to online-only sales, among other measures. King’s has yet to put out a post-lockdown statement.

Meanwhile at the Nova Scotia Community College, where the winter term officially ended yesterday, “courses and milestones scheduled for the spring and summer terms will continue as planned,” NSCC vice-president of academics Anna Burke wrote in an update today.

Despite the current spike of cases and consequent lockdown, universities are remaining hopeful that learning will return to classrooms come next school year. After all, as Nova Scotia was just reminded, it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen with the disease.

“We remain cautiously optimistic,” said Bruce DeBaie, communications manager at NSCAD University, “and while September is four months away, the situation with the pandemic sometimes changes within days, so we’ll continue to adapt as nimbly as possible.”

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