Western delays start of in-person classes for first-year students by another month

·3 min read

Most Western University students will return to in-person learning Jan. 31 while first-year students will remain virtual for another month, the university says.

Western announced Friday there will be a phased return to campus for students who began the winter term online on Monday. Students in second, third and fourth year, as well as those in graduate courses and second-entry professional programs, will return to in-person classes on Jan. 31.

The university said earlier this month it planned to bring all students back to classes on that date. But first-year students will resume in-person learning on Feb. 28, the university said, citing safety concerns amid the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

“We are hopeful that this staggered return will minimize transmission and the impact on the health-care system,” Sarah Prichard, acting president and vice-chancellor, said in a statement.

First-year medical science student Zalaan Bagnash said Friday he was disappointed to learn his classes wouldn’t resume at the end of this month.

"I was upset. It sucks,” the 18-year-old said.

“I love to learn and I put a lot of time into my learning … There's something about in-person learning that just can't be matched through a screen.”

The return to residence for most students, many of whom are first-year students, also will be delayed.

“Based on current health guidance and the increased transmission risks associated with Omicron in congregate-living environments, we will be delaying the return to residence for most students,” Prichard said.

“Most of our first-year students are living in residence with shared spaces and washrooms that increase the risk of transmission and will not meet self-isolation requirements if substantial numbers of students are required to isolate.”

The university said it will provide additional information to students in residence on Tuesday.

Bangnash is one of more than 3,200 students living in residences who were asked to stay home longer due to the increase in COVID-19 cases during the last few weeks.

“Making the return safely is difficult, but that’s everywhere,” said Bagnash, who has his third COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's nice to know that (the university's) thinking about our safety, but I feel like they’re not seeing the bigger picture here. There's more than just this virus to think about,” he said, citing the pandemic’s toll on the mental health and well-being of people his age.

The university's affiliates Brescia, Huron and King’s university colleges, will resume on-campus learning and services, including for first-year students, on Jan. 31.

Employees who are not required to be on-campus should continue to work from home, Western officials said.

“We know this is challenging for many of our students, faculty and staff,” Prichard said. “We are hoping this staggered return will allow classes to take place on campus for the rest of the term to support academic progress and get back to the in-person learning experience we all value.”

The university is encouraging students and staff to get their third vaccine doses before returning to campus. Anyone who needs support for mental health and well-being is asked to reach out to the university for assistance.

cleon@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/CalviatLFPress

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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