President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell sent the following message to the campus community on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

Dear Christendom students, parents, faculty and staff:

Pax Christi! I pray that you are well on this great feast day of the “Martyr Saints of China,” a group of 120 souls—people young and old, workers and catechizers, lay, priests, and religious—who died for the faith in a land yet hostile to the message of the Gospel. May God protect you and your families and prosper your work in this time of increasing hostility toward the truth of the Gospel and witness of the saints. Our trust is in Jesus Christ, and even in the most desperate of times He has remained faithful to his promises. Like St. Augustine and his companions, we need not be afraid.

As you know, the College has been working for many months now to navigate current events and work toward safely reopening in the fall of 2020. On May 13, 2020, I formed a Task Force to explore prudent measures to help safeguard the health and well-being of students, faculty, and staff in reopening the College in the Fall of 2020. The Task Force is made up of professors, staff, and medical professionals. I am grateful to these College leaders for their excellent and timely work.

Having convened for extensive full group meetings and after much effort in subcommittees related to the various aspects of academic and campus life, the Task Force presented me with numerous recommendations, focused on the various areas of College life. I am pleased to accept all of the recommendations of the Task Force. Work is already underway to begin implementing them. These measures may change as circumstances evolve leading up to the first day of classes, but we are confident that the College is preparing prudently for as safe and successful a semester as possible.

A full list of measures will be listed on our website at https://www.christendom.edu/news/coronavirus-updates/ tomorrow. Governor Ralph Northam has recognized the “widely varied missions and circumstances of the many different” colleges and universities.  He has called for planning among higher educational institutions which is “specific to their unique constituencies and settings.” Christendom is blessed to be a small, residential College with less than 500 students living on campus. We are located in a rural setting, and in a county that has seen 8 total deaths of those with COVID-19, as of today. In light of these realities, we are moving forward with reasonable modifications for the good of our particular community.

Details concerning some of the most important steps we are taking are listed below:

  1. Medical board of advisors – I have convened a group of medical professionals to serve as a medical board of advisors for the 2020/2021 academic year. The group is made up of generalists, specialists, and a nurse practitioner. They will provide me with a direct and critical sounding board as the College continues to prudentially address the health and safety risks to our community.
  2. College Calendar – While we all long for as normal a semester as possible, the College must make some important modifications to the academic calendar given all of the various risks as they appear today.  The semester will be modified in the following ways:
    • Arrival and move-in times will remain the same (and are being communicated through Student Life as normal), as will the first day of class (Tuesday, August 25).
    • The College will not have a fall break this year. Instead, we will explore the addition of two extra days off during the semester. Full information about the fall calendar will be available within the next week.
    • In-person instruction will end at Thanksgiving. Professors will design their syllabi to complete in-person instruction by Wednesday, November 25.
    • Professors will be strongly encouraged to spread testing and assessment throughout the semester to place less emphasis on mid-terms (or omit them altogether in favor of multiple smaller tests and/or papers) and reduce the weight of final examinations.
    • All final exams will be administered in an online format.
    • Students may take their examinations from home after Thanksgiving or remain on campus and take them online from here.  The College campus will remain open with all typical services available to students until noon on December 11.
  3. Classroom Space – As a residential College, our students are interacting with one another in a variety of settings, including in the residence halls. Most of our class sections are also much smaller than is typical in most institutions. Even so, we want to create as much spacing as we can in our classrooms. We also wish to provide professors with adequate spacing from students in each classroom. Given these aims, the College will ensure that:
    • All classes will be scheduled in classrooms at no more than two-thirds capacity to facilitate more spacing. The College will also put into use larger spaces for higher-enrollment sections, appropriately modify seminar classroom set-ups, and ensure that “smart classroom” needs are met even with these modifications.
    • Classrooms will be arranged to permit adequate distancing of the professor from the students.
    • In addition to enhanced, regular cleaning of classrooms, each classroom will be equipped with self-cleaning items made available for students and faculty to use before each class session.
    • Assigned seating will be required to limit exposure risk from a possibly infected student.
    • Air purifiers will be added to certain classroom spaces.
  4. Student Life – Again, ours is a small, residential campus with students living, studying, and interacting with one another in many settings. With this reality in mind, we will take the following steps in the area of student life:
    • The College will limit the number of family members invited to Orientation. Each student will be limited to two guests for the opening orientation sessions.
    • The College will postpone “Parents and Family Weekend” until the spring.
    • Non-community member attendance at College events will be suspended for the fall.
    • Student Life will utilize more outdoor space for larger events and use multiple spaces for gathering during events where feasible.
    • Students will be encouraged to limit travel during the semester.
  5. Residence Life – In residence life, the College will:
    • Implement enhanced cleaning and sanitizing procedures in residence halls, with an emphasis on frequent sanitizing of high-touch points, bathrooms, and common areas.
    • Provide enhanced training for Residence Directors and Resident Assistants for health, safety, and COVID-19-related protocols. RDs and RAs will be given training by qualified medical personnel for monitoring student health.
  6. Medical Enhancements and Isolation/Quarantining Procedures – The College has adopted a set of infectious disease quarantining and isolation protocols that include best-practice steps for COVID-19. In addition, the College will:
    • Ensure that the College nurse’s hours are expanded and that she remains connected to key county and state healthcare officials, as well as professionals in other academic institutions, concerning the most up-to-date medical treatment information.
    • Implement additional measures for the health of students, including increasing the number of hand sanitizer stations throughout high traffic areas of campus, and increasing education and reminders about immune system and general health, among other things.
  7. Facilities and Food Service – The College will:
    • Expand serving times where feasible and increase seating space options during meals, especially during lunch.
    • Adjust food service practices to limit common contact with food items and surfaces, including use of disposable dishware, increased use of pre-packaged food items and condiments, more “to-go” options, and less “self-serve” options in the Commons.
  8. Student Academic Accommodations – Because possible isolation and quarantining requires continued support of student learning, the College will:
    • Institute uniform absence policies that stress leniency for illness. If students are sick, for the sake of the health of the community, we must encourage and support them in seeking medical assistance and limit contact with other members of the community. Absences related to illness will be considered excused.
    • Make provision for continued instruction of quarantined and isolated students – The College is developing and will put in place necessary technology and support systems to ensure students who are isolated and quarantined will continue to have recordings of class instruction and other necessary materials.
  9. Faculty and Staff Accommodations – The College will take the following measures for the benefit of our Faculty and Staff:
    • Support of faculty and staff in personal measures relating to health and safety – The College will stress in orientation, and as needed throughout the semester, the need to be accommodating and supportive of faculty and staff who are taking personal measures to protect their health and safety and those of their loved ones. Where professors or staff members choose to use personal protective equipment, or have a preference for electronic means for meetings or office hours, students and other faculty and staff should provide an environment that supports those individual’s decisions.
    • Expand available measures for faculty to protect health and safety – The College will make available to professors options designed to protect their health and safety, should the professor determine they wish to use them. Such measures will include:  being the last person to enter and first to leave classrooms, utilizing virtual office hours, and the expanded use of test proctoring.
    • Faculty and Staff will be permitted to opt out of mandatory events as needed.
    • The College will take an individual and compassionate approach with any faculty or staff members who may have serious concerns about performing their responsibilities and will reasonably accommodate those concerns.

With all of these steps and others to be detailed on our website, we seek to move forward in the new semester with prudence and common sense as a small residential college. Our liberal arts education is bolstered and supported by a robust faith environment and critically important social formation. I am confident that we can focus on the well-being of our community members while still living out our educational apostolate in a full way.

I look forward to seeing you very soon. Let us pray together that our Lord Jesus Christ will steel our resolve to live out Christendom’s mission. Likewise, may the Holy Spirit embolden us to remind a weary world that truth does exist and that Jesus Christ, our sovereign King, is the answer to the longing of every human heart.

Sincerely in the Heart of Christ,

Dr. O’Donnell

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