How Vermont’s private colleges are approaching COVID safety this fall

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PUTNEY, Vt. – Students from across the country are getting ready to return to colleges across our region, and each school appears to be taking its own approach to safety as the Delta variant forces administrators to take action.

That’s especially been the case with private colleges in Vermont. Most have instituted vaccine requirements and mask mandates, but some schools have taken precautions a step further with outdoor mandates and other measures.

“We’re all just sort of sighing, because we thought we were coming out of the woods, right?” said Peter Eden, President of Landmark College in Putney. “The students were all very clear about how cool it was going to be to return to a completely normal campus experience.”

Landmark College is the first higher education institution designed exclusively for students with a learning disability like dyslexia, ADHD or autism. Eden said because of that, campus life isn’t just part of the experience, but paramount for students’ growth and success.

That’s why the lingering risks associated with COVID have been a bit of a bummer, but even during the height of the pandemic, the school was able to adapt.

“We never closed,” Eden said. “We were open the summer of 2020. We ran on-campus programs with hyper-vigilance… We knew we had to do everything to ‘de-risk’ it, this particular program running the way it needs to run for success.”

This year for Landmark, that meant requiring vaccinations for students and employees, and masking up indoors and outdoors if people are standing within six feet of each other.

The masking rules aren’t set in stone for the entire semester, and that appears to be the case for a lot of Vermont colleges.

“There is excitement for returning students that it’s going to be a lot better than last year,” Eden said. “I’m sure that it’s tempered a little bit by all of us knowing that we’re not out of the woods, we’ve got to wear masks again for the first couple weeks, we’ve got to be really, really careful.”

At nearby Bennington College, students, staff and visitors will have to mask up indoors and outdoors regardless of how many people in the area until August 31, the strategy being that early and continued vigilance pays off.

“The beginning of the school year when you’re moving people into campus and transitioning them to your on-campus community, there are a lot of moving parts,” said Ali Tartaglia, Chair of the Bennington College COVID-19 task force. “Students coming from different places that have different levels of community spread.”

We also heard from Saint Michael’s College, where President Lorraine Sterritt sent a letter to the campus community on Friday detailing the school’s indoor mask mandate. Like Landmark and Bennington College, it’ll be re-evaluated on a weekly basis.

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