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Hundreds Sign Petition Urging Penn State To Alter Spring Semester Plans

More than 1,200 concerned students, employees, community members, and more have signed a petition urging Penn State to modify its spring semester plans amid COVID-19 concerns.

The petition launched online shortly after Penn State announced it would move forward with in-person instruction to begin the spring semester on Monday, January 10. The university had previously said it was considering reverting to remote instruction due to worsening COVID-19 conditions across the country.

The published plea strongly urges Penn State to change its course before the semester begins. It suggested beginning the semester with remote classes or postponing the semester’s start entirely until pandemic conditions improve.

“Following the holiday breaks and return-to-campus, we anticipate an increasing number of positive cases, which can further induce lots of uncertainties of Omicron (and potentially new variants) and subsequently pose critical threats to the health and well-being of our community,” the petition reads.

A number of Penn State’s peer institutions have modified spring semester plans. In the Big Ten, schools like Northwestern, Illinois, and Michigan State have all opted to begin remotely or delay the start of classes. Pennsylvania schools like Pitt and Temple chose to postpone the start of in-person instruction, too.

When the university announced its in-person spring semester plans, Penn State said its leadership felt current COVID-19 conditions don’t require a switch to online learning yet. However, case numbers in Pennsylvania are skyrocketing. On Tuesday, the state reported 24,850 new COVID-19 cases to set a single-day record for the fourth time in the last week.

As of January 4, Mount Nittany Medical Center is treating 48 COVID-19-positive inpatients aged between 25 and 89, according to its online dashboard. Centre County’s only hospital has faced surging hospitalizations in recent weeks, even forcing it to divert ambulances away from its emergency room at one point in December.

“In his most recent open letter to the community…Eric Barron has shared that the University’s ‘singular objective is, and always has been, the health and safety of our community. Our decisions have been driven by data, science, and advice from medical professionals at a local, state and national level,'” the petition reads. “However, the spring 2022 semester plan does not justify or align with this sound claim – in what way is the plan driven by data, science, and professional advice? What exactly is being shown or suggested by these sources?”

With the start of classes just five days away, chances of any pre-semester changes seem slim at best. For now, Penn State is rolling with a model that looks similar to its fall semester — no vaccine mandate and no surveillance testing.

About 89.8% of students and 90% of employees at University Park are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Penn State’s COVID-19 Dashboard. The reporting tool, which hasn’t been updated in about a month, does not include information about students’ COVID-19 vaccine booster coverage.

Only unvaccinated students and employees are required to get tested for COVID-19 weekly. Penn State previously said it would comply with a federal mandate asking all faculty and staff to get vaccinated. However, the requirement is currently under an injunction that will prevent the mandate from taking effect by January 4, the previously announced deadline.

Additionally, Penn State is not requiring pre-arrival COVID-19 testing for students or employees. All are currently eligible to order up to a dozen free at-home testing kits through Vault Health. Additionally, Penn State’s White Building will open a drop-in testing site during move-in weekend from January 7 to 9.

Earlier this month, Penn State extended its indoor mask-wearing mandate through the spring semester. The requirement applies to all, regardless of vaccination status.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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