Message to Luther Community Regarding Plans for Spring Break, Distance Learning, College-Sponsored Travel, and Campus Events

To: Luther College students, parents, faculty, staff, regents, emeriti, and alumni
From: President Jenifer K. Ward
Re: COVID-19 update on plans for spring break, distance learning, college-sponsored travel, and campus events
Date: March 12, 2020

Dear Members of the Luther Community,

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to be a global pandemic. Presently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Luther College or in Winneshiek County and the City of Decorah; 16 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Iowa by the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). Over the past weeks, I, my Cabinet, and the Emergency Response Team have activated and begun to implement Luther College’s Pandemic Response Plan. During this time, we have also consulted with Winneshiek County Public Health, the IDPH, the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, academic department heads, the Academic Planning Committee, and the Faculty Organization Committee in order to formulate plans and prepare the campus community.

The foremost goals of the Pandemic Response Plan are to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff and to continue the educational mission of the college through the pandemic period. We are especially mindful of our responsibilities and obligations to protect the most vulnerable members of our campus and local communities in the early days of this new situation. Additionally, our faculty and staff need time to address the many details that go into planning for alternative ways of delivering our educational services. While the measures mentioned below do not offer a protective shield around Luther College or Decorah, they will allow us to begin to adjust to a new reality. Therefore, I and my Cabinet, in consultation with the Board of Regents, have made the following decisions, effective Monday, March 16 through Monday, April 13. Please understand that these actions may be extended or revised, based on changing conditions.

  • Spring Break will proceed as planned (March 21 through March 29).
  • Students will need to move out of residence halls by 7 p.m. Saturday, March 21. Students should take all course materials and personal belongings needed for an extended absence from campus. Students do not need to remove all of their belongings from their rooms. Students may remain on campus if they are an international student, if they reside more than 500 miles away from the college, or if moving out would present an extreme hardship, as determined by the college; students for whom these conditions apply and who wish to remain on campus should submit this form. Please note that the prior applications for spring break housing are no longer in effect. Residence halls will reopen to all students on Monday, April 13.
  • Courses will be offered in distance learning formats and with alternative assignments Monday, March 30 through Thursday, April 9. Faculty and staff instructors will communicate individually with their classes regarding the details about how their courses will proceed in distance learning formats and with alternative assignments during this time period. The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Information and Technology Services, and the Dean’s Office have prepared resources to support faculty for this transition. Continued support will be provided by the Student Academic Support Center to all students with academic accommodations.
  • Courses will resume on campus on Tuesday, April 14 following Easter Vacation (April 10 through April 13). Upon resumption of classes on campus, both in-person and distance learning pedagogies may be used, depending upon the circumstances.
  • Students granted permission to remain on campus may be relocated for the interim period. Not all residence halls will be open during the interim period. Further, should students granted permission to stay on campus develop symptoms of or be diagnosed with COVID-19, they may be isolated at the discretion of the IDPH or the college.
  • Campus will remain open to all faculty and staff, as well as to students that have been granted permission to remain on campus. Normal business operations will continue for faculty and staff. Employees should consult supervisors to determine the degree to which working remotely is possible or advisable. Dining Services and student support services will remain open, likely in a more limited format.
  • All outbound college-sponsored travel is prohibited beginning Monday, March 16 and continuing through at least Sunday, April 12. Inbound college-sponsored travel will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The travel restriction applies to both group and individual travel, domestic or international, on behalf of the college. We acknowledge the significant impact of travel restrictions and the disappointment they may cause. We do not make these decisions lightly, and we ask for your continued understanding and patience as we defer to the authority and guidelines of the IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in order to keep the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff paramount. In addition, we strongly believe that travel is reciprocal in nature. Travelers from Luther College have the responsibility of making decisions that help to protect the health of the communities in which we have a presence, and our precautions are designed to help protect those around us, some of whom are vulnerable due to factors such as age and pre-existing health conditions. Further, the college can neither control the conditions at potential destinations nor safely address a situation where a traveler begins to exhibit symptoms during the course of travel.
  • Campus events with large numbers of anticipated attendees in close proximity will be canceled beginning Monday, March 16 and continuing through at least Monday, April 13. Large, dense crowds create an increased risk of viral transmission that places the most vulnerable members of our campus and local communities in jeopardy. The Campus Programming Office will work with event planners and hosts to identify and cancel events with 50 or more anticipated attendees. The college and public health agencies may adjust thresholds or cancel campus events altogether at any time at their discretion.

We understand that each individual has a unique level of risk tolerance, and that some individuals might have reached different determinations regarding these developments. Please understand that we are, in this instance, faced with decisions that have an impact on community risk and public health. Luther College has a responsibility to do its part to “flatten the curve” and help prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed. These decisions will not only help protect individual and community health but also provide Luther College the continued opportunity to assess the spread of COVID-19 and to make measured responses, to practice social distancing, and to test our distance learning pedagogies. As individuals, you also can do your part by practicing preventive actions and by thoughtfully reconsidering and limiting personal travel during these next few weeks.

We are living in an uncertain time and we don’t have answers to all of the questions right now. But here are some things that I do know. I know that over these past weeks I have witnessed a profound testament to the power of a liberal arts education, as we have worked creatively together amidst ambiguity to find collaborative solutions. I know that our way of learning has equipped us to understand and confront a changing society, even one facing a pandemic. I know that we are called to challenge one another to learn in community and that as a community we will learn from this challenge. I know that our community is strong and committed to serving with distinction for the common good. And I know that our community will stay strong and committed during this time and beyond.

For more information on COVID-19 and its prevalence in Iowa visit the CDC and IDPH web pages. If you have questions regarding Luther’s response please consult Luther’s Health Advisories webpage or contact the Student Life Office (563-387-1020; [email protected]) or Health Services (563-387-1045). You can also call the IDPH information line 24/7 at 2-1-1 with any questions.

Dr. Jenifer K. Ward, President
Luther College