Update for Pomona Students and Families on Spring Semester (12/16/20)

Dear Sagehen Community,

As a difficult year comes to a close, I’m writing to offer my gratitude for the endurance and compassion of our Sagehen community during this extraordinary situation. As we look ahead to better days, I also want to provide a detailed update on where things stand right now on our path to getting students back to campus.

The academic calendar for spring is now set, and the new semester begins Jan. 25 with remote instruction. For every student, we will continue to refine our remote teaching, find creative ways to keep everyone connected and build our enduring community around the globe. At the same time, we are working to return a portion of our student population to campus later in the semester, once we have approval from our county. 

To that end, we’ve restored spring break to a full week, March 8-12, and we plan to use that time to return that group of students to campus.

The Path Back

First, we need approval to do so. Los Angeles County has taken a highly-restrictive approach to higher education during the pandemic, one that varies greatly from the rest of California and the nation. We are pushing to change that. More and more colleges nationwide have seen success with containing the virus as students return to campus. In this crisis, higher education institutions can be allies to the public health effort by offering students regular testing, contact tracing and other measures. 

I’ve been meeting with our county’s elected leaders – the Board of Supervisors – and public health officials to press the case for responsible reopening of college campuses. In response, public health is offering a pilot/waiver program allowing small colleges to return up to 500 students for spring, but only after the case rate reaches a lower threshold. We will apply for the waiver once it opens, and we also need to determine which students are able to return once we get the green light.

Next month, we will open a simple application process for students to return in March with county approval. Priority will be given to students experiencing hardships, living abroad in various time zones, new first-year students and new transfer students. For sophomores, juniors and seniors, we will use a lottery system to allocate available spaces. The lottery spaces will be filled in proportion to the number of applications received for each class.

In early January, we will send out more details, including a link to an application that will allow students to tell us if they are interested in being considered for a spot to live on campus, should the opportunity present itself.

That will allow us to (a) know how many students are interested in living on campus and (b) make some calculations of financial aid room and board refunds based on whether a student is seeking to live on campus or plans to continue to live off campus for spring semester. Here’s how that will work:  

  • Eligible enrolled students on financial aid who do not plan to come back to campus this spring will receive their refund for room and board fees in January based on an off-campus budget, the same approach used for fall semester.   
  • For eligible enrolled students on financial aid applying to return to campus mid-semester, we will provide a pro-rated refund in January. The partial refund will be based on an off-campus budget through the week of March 8, when the student would move to campus. From that point, the balance of their room and board fees will be covered by the College. If the student is not ultimately able to come to campus, the College will provide the balance of their refund, based on an off-campus budget for the full semester, in February or March.   

We also will provide as much information as we have at that point about campus life for those who return. Los Angeles County is still quite cautious about gatherings and that will govern what kind of activities are possible. It is our hope that if we are allowed to bring students to campus, the county also will modify some of the rules, providing opportunity for some fun and recreational activities with appropriate precautions such as physical distancing.

Ready for Return

When students do return, measures such as routine, rapid-result testing, contact tracing and, when needed, quarantine and isolation will be in place.

To make sure we can carry out all the testing we will need, The Claremont Colleges has contracted with Shield T3, the COVID-19 testing services of the University of Illinois, to manage a certified laboratory at the colleges.

The lab will conduct twice-weekly testing of all students who live on campus, in line with research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Shield T3 will administer a saliva PCR-test with a rapid turnaround of six hours for results.

Student Health Service will also carry out contact tracing for students who test positive or who are exposed to COVID-19 and will work with the Dean of Students Office to conduct daily wellness checks on any students in quarantine and isolation.

Attention to Safety

While students are away, many additional measures have been taken to prepare for return, including the launch of our Pomona Safe program with testing and other measures for staff and faculty the installation of wall-mounted thermometers and many other steps that include:     

  • Upgrading all air filters to MERV 11/13 and replacing more frequently as determined by building usage and manufacturers recommendations    
  • Revising system controls to produce 100 percent outside air where possible to facilitate multiple air exchanges through the day           
  • Installing Plexiglas barriers at all high-traffic, front-facing service areas    
  • Installing automatic door openers in 23 high-use buildings, and 230 additional hands-free door openers at entry doors to residence halls, classroom buildings and restrooms    

The campus is ready. We are ready.

We also are looking ahead, planning for a robust range of summer research opportunities. And with so much good news on the vaccine front, we expect and are planning for a full re-opening of campus in fall. Please continue to visit our COVID-19 resource pages for updates.

As we all push through a trying season, I am grateful for your commitment to our enduring community, and I wish you and your loved ones a safe and restful holiday season and New Year.


With best wishes, 

G. Gabrielle Starr
Pomona College