Officials at Thomas College announced Thursday they are working on a comprehensive plan to bring students back to campus for the fall term after the remainder of the 2019-20 school year was moved to distance learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The college has been in contact with local hospitals and other colleges to determine the best way to bring the faculty, staff and students back to campus by August, according to a statement issued by Thomas administrators.

“Thomas College has been participating in a coalition of community leaders in central Maine to explore protocols to jointly and safely reopen area campuses that will safeguard the health and safety of every student, faculty member, and staff person,” the prepared statement reads.

“Included in this effort are government officials, the early childhood and K-12 systems, and representatives from community services and safety agencies. Thomas has also been working directly with our local hospitals, MaineGeneral Medical Center and Northern Light Inland Hospital, as well as Colby and the other eight private colleges in Maine, in order to have access to the most relevant and timely information possible.” 

To minimize the risk to students and staff, the college plans to adjust class sizes and locations, increase access to hand sanitizer, increase deep cleaning and evaluate housing capacity.

“Our plan in a general sense is to look at the over arching guidelines from the CDC,” said Lisa Desautels-Poliquin, vice president for student affairs at Thomas.

“If they (CDC) say no more than 50 people can be in the dining hall at a time, we’ll limit it to that and if they say we can increase it, we’ll increase it.

“We’re looking at reducing class sizes and adding additional sections … creating a hybrid of online and in person instruction, utilizing some of our bigger spaces on campus for classes like the auditorium. We want to get the students back on campus and continue their education.”

Desautels-Poliquin said Thomas is still evaluating how it will approach housing on campus in a safe way.

“We’re looking at things right now so we may not start the fall at 100% capacity in the dorms,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “And we’re looking at the social spaces within our housing to see if we need to potentially add more safety guidelines.” 

The prices for room and board at Thomas are not expected to increase even if the number of students staying on campus is restricted, according to Desautels-Poliquin.

For Desautels-Poliquin and other staff members at the college, the primary focus is allowing the community of Thomas to return to campus in the safest way possible.

I think for us, that small community is what we’re looking to bring back to campus,” Desautels-Poliquin said. “It’s not a secret that things are going to look different, but the spirit of our community will be the same. We’re asking people to take some additional safety precautions. I anticipate there will be compliance. We’ve heard from some of our students that they want to find ways to come back to campus, so that’s our goal.”

The college transitioned to online instruction in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was announced on April 27 that the commencement ceremony, scheduled for May 9, would be postponed until the fall.

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