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Fall COVID-19 Guidance

Posted June 30, 2021 by Wheaton College Parent Engagement
Tags: Parent Announcements

Dear Parents, 

On June 21, we sent a message to students outlining COVID-Safe protocols to help prepare for life on Wheaton's campus this fall. This lengthy update provides additional information and vital context for our current plans and future decision-making.

Many other Illinois colleges and universities are requiring vaccinations for their students. Wheaton has chosen a different path, one that honors individual conscience while still ensuring we can safely learn, work, worship, and live together in a Christ-centered academic community.

In developing our fall 2021 COVID-Safe protocols, we used guidance from the State of Illinois and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our growing experience over the past three semesters, and our trust in God's guidance through continued prayer. We will closely monitor the emerging research as well as public health guidance and revisit our COVID-Safe procedures as changes are warranted.

Our fall protocols should allow us to come close to safely resuming pre-pandemic operations. The benefits to our students will include:

  • classrooms with desks returned to their pre-pandemic arrangements
  • clubs and other student organizations allowed to meet in person
  • socializing in person in public lounge spaces around campus
  • freedom to leave campus to enjoy the City of Chicago and the surrounding area's many activities and eating options
  • making music together
  • eating together
  • worshipping God together in a full Edman Chapel for the first time in 18 months

There is no requirement to be vaccinated at Wheaton College. Students who are medically unable to receive a vaccine or who choose not to be vaccinated for other reasons will not be made to sit separately from vaccinated students in class, in the dining hall, in chapel, or anywhere else on campus.

We realize that some students and employees might not be able to vaccinate due to personal medical conditions. Extending the grace of ongoing community COVID-Safe practices to protect the lives of those individuals is one important consideration in our protocols.

We strongly encourage everyone able to be vaccinated to do so. Among the many reputable organizations that have recommended the vaccine are the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Practitioners, the Cleveland Clinic, and the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Consulting additional medical professionals in DuPage County has helped us to understand that heart issues after being vaccinated have been an extremely rare side effect and have been shown to be temporary. Myocarditis and pericarditis are much more common for persons who contract COVID-19, and the risks to the heart from COVID-19 infection can be more severe. We will be screening all incoming and returning athletes for the warning signs of these conditions after COVID infection or vaccination, with appropriate follow-up as needed.

We have received messages from some parents regarding testing and masking requirements for unvaccinated students. Some parents have thanked us for the announced protocols, while others have expressed concern about the unknown long-term effects of the vaccine, about the perception that the June 21 email to students created time pressure to be fully vaccinated before the August 1 attestation deadline, or about the perception that unvaccinated students will be ostracized for wearing masks. We are grateful to those who wrote to express their opinions in a respectful and prayerful manner, and we honor how much everyone cares for their students and for the mission of Wheaton College.

In order to minimize the spread of the virus, Wheaton's masking policy follows an executive order from Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker requiring unvaccinated people to mask, as well as guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). This public health protocol is a way to care for our community, including for those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons or who choose not to be vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people (defined as those who are two weeks or more beyond their final dose) are not required to wear masks on campus. We anticipate that some vaccinated individuals will prefer to wear a mask. Unvaccinated individuals on campus are expected to wear a face covering indoors, which is especially important when social distancing is not possible when we are at full capacity for class, chapel, and some large indoor events.

We have learned that testing in combination with masking indoors is an effective way to suppress the spread of the virus worldwide. Unvaccinated undergraduate students will turn in a saliva test once a week at the College's expense. The saliva test is easy to complete and was 100% accurate at Wheaton College for detecting the COVID virus during spring semester.

The College will also pay for proactive, twice-weekly saliva testing to allow unvaccinated students to participate mask-free during high-transmission risk activities such as:

  • varsity student athletes participating in College-approved practices and games
  • music and Arena Theater students participating in College-approved rehearsals and performances
  • participating in approved ROTC activities.

Additionally, unvaccinated students may unmask when eating meals in the dining hall, when outdoors, and when in assigned housing units with roommates, apartment-mates, and housemates.

With our return to pre-pandemic campus rhythms, we are also resuming longstanding class attendance and absence policies. Students who are in 14-day quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 exposure or infection will follow our pre-pandemic attendance and make-up work policies, and we will provide full support for any student who experiences an absence from class (whether due to COVID-19, influenza, surgery, or other medical absences students sometimes encounter).

Because we value the transformative experience of in-person learning and mentoring, Wheaton is returning to fully in-person classes this fall with rare exceptions for international travel/ADA reasons. As we pursue a return to fully in-person class experiences, remote learning will no longer be available for students in quarantine or isolation unless an exception applies due to a disability or international travel. Our experience with remote learning has shown that it is most effective when everyone is online. The hybrid learning environment—with some students online and others in person—hinders our faculty from providing engaging class sessions.

Where there is a documented medical concern associated with complying with COVID-Safe guidelines, students should reach out to the Learning & Accessibility Services Office to explore whether they are eligible for ADA accommodation.

Our goal for the 2021-22 school year is to foster an in-person campus environment that is grace-filled and COVID-Safe for all members of Wheaton's community. We seek to foster a climate of respect and acceptance for all campus members, regardless of vaccination status or views on masking.

We believe it is especially important for our new parents to understand our commitment to their students in the context of Wheaton's whole person educational experience in a Christ-centered community. We are thankful for changes to public health guidelines that allow us to offer more opportunities for in-person community. Despite the challenges of an ongoing global pandemic, including renewed concerns about dangerous variants, we hope and pray for more positive changes in the coming months, and we look forward to welcoming your students this fall.

Grace and peace,

The COVID-19 Leadership Team