Colleges reconsider reopening plans

When the Boston Globe reported Sunday that many colleges and universities throughout the country were reversing their plans to reopen in-person, only Berklee College of Music had taken that step in the Boston area.

Just wait a week.

The Globe reported Wednesday that Smith College in Northampton and Regis College in Weston both scaled back their plans to bring students back to campus in person.

Smith had originally planned to bring back first- and second-year students, and seniors graduating in January. But a Smith official wrote that the worsening pandemic is forcing the college to keep all of its students at home. Regis College said it would allow only upper-class students in laboratory-heavy medical classes to return.

Then on Thursday, UMass Amherst reversed course from its initial plan to allow any student to live on campus, even if they were only taking remote classes. Now, only students taking laboratory, studio, and capstone courses will be allowed to live on campus, MassLive reported. Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy attributed the reversal to the worsening conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic nationally.

Subbaswamy wrote that given public health data and comparable reopening attempts across the country, he worries about the danger of closing mid-semester and would rather change plans now than risk sending students home during an outbreak.

There are numerous public health reasons that school officials are considering reversing course. Many of these schools attract a significant portion of their student bodies from out of state, and the virus is rampant in much of the US. Massachusetts is also seeing its infection numbers tick upwards. Colleges – with their communal cafeterias, large lectures, and dormitory living – are potential petri dishes for infection to spread. Even with precautions limiting class sizes and common spaces, teenagers and young adults living on their own are unlikely to resist the temptation to throw the occasional dorm room party.

There are also town-gown issues. Amherst’s town manager had expressed concern to UMass Amherst officials that off-campus students partying and traveling around town could pose risks to Amherst residents. Boston city councilor Kenzie Bok recently asked Boston University and Northeastern University, which are both planning to bring students back in person, to only offer remote classes. Both schools have set up elaborate testing protocols and made changes to housing and class sizes, but Bok worried that an influx in out-of-state college students would  endanger local residents, particularly the elderly.

Many schools were already planning to bring back only a portion of their students this fall. Harvard, for example, plans to bring back no more than 40 percent of its undergraduates.

Whether even those limited plans will still be derailed remains to be seen. With students expected to arrive in a matter of weeks, there is little time to change gears. But as the pandemic has already shown time and time again, the best-laid plans can change in a heartbeat.

SHIRA SCHOENBERG


FROM COMMONWEALTH

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FROM AROUND THE WEB             

BEACON HILL

An association of Massachusetts police chiefs is looking to head off changes to the qualified immunity by embracing the reform package laid out by the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, which didn’t address that issue. (Boston Herald)

When next year’s budget comes out, there is likely going to be little room for local earmarks. (Eagle-Tribune)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Despite sharp divisions of opinion on the issue, the Boston School Committee transfers some city parcels in Dorchester to the Martin Richard Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club. The two organizations plan to build a $30 million field house there. (Dorchester Reporter)

Advocates for immigrants say Secretary of the Commonwealth Bill Galvin has more than $1 million in money left unspent that is supposed to be given to municipalities and nonprofits to help with the census count. (MassLive)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Experts are starting to change their mind about COVID-19 testing, suggesting much faster but potentially less accurate tests are the best way to rein in the coronavirus. (New York Times) Michael Mina of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is leading the charge. (Harvard Magazine)

Prices for COVID-19 vaccines are starting to come into focus. (NPR)

Dr. Betsy Nabel, the president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, penned an op-ed piece recently that appeared in several newspapers criticizing attempts to rein in drug prices without disclosing that she sat on the board of Cambridge pharmaceutical company Moderna. (Boston Globe)

Sutton’s town nurse is attributing a new outbreak of COVID-19 there to young people with “quarantine fatigue.” (Telegram & Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

New York Attorney General Letitia James moves to dissolve the National Rifle Association after finding massive fraud and abuse. (NPR)

In a meeting with the North of Boston Media Group’s editorial board, Rep. Seth Moulton criticizes the federal government’s response related to COVID-19 testing and says Congress needs to act boldly in its next stimulus bill. (The Salem News)

A Georgia high school suspended students who shared on social media photos of hallways jammed with maskless students. (Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Days after the Globe endorsed uber-wired 32-year-old Jake Auchincloss in the crowded Democratic primary for an open congressional seat, a move that has drawn strong criticism, Globe columnist Shirley Leung takes direct aim at the paper’s endorsement, saying Jesse Mermell is the far better choice for the moment, and adds this zinger: “Folks, this ain’t 1999 when all the rich kids get their way.”

The Biden campaign has asked Boston Mayor Marty Walsh to lead an economic roundtable today with New Hampshire business leaders, fueling speculation that Hizzoner could be on the short list for a cabinet post such as labor secretary. (Boston Herald)

The rarely-church-going president declared yesterday that Joe Biden is “against God.” (Associated Press)

Rep. Seth Moulton’s 6th District primary challengers are criticizing his decision to challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership. (Gloucester Daily Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Colonial Hotel in Gardner is fined $600 for holding a 300-person wedding for a relative of the hotel’s general manager, then a 190-person event the next day. (Boston Business Journal)

Merrow Manufacturing owner Charlie Merrow announced the creation of 200 new jobs as the company steps up its manufacturing of personal protection equipment. (Herald News)

New Hampshire is investigating the legality of Massachusetts taxing out-of-state residents who hold a job in Massachusetts but are working from home. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

More Massachusetts school districts are turning to remote-only reopening plans for the fall. (Boston Globe)

The Eagle-Tribune highlights the conundrum facing school officials, with teachers in Lawrence protesting that it is not safe to return to school in-person, while North Andover parents hold a rally to demand more in-school time for their children. In New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell said  a full school reopening poses an “unacceptable risk.” (State House News Service)

Alternative schooling is gaining popularity during the pandemic. (Patriot Ledger)

Elite colleges are seeing a big increase in the number of admitted freshmen deferring enrollment for a year in the face of a first year that would be far different from expected because of pandemic-driven changes. (Boston Globe) In late April, CommonWealth took stock of the disruption the pandemic was bringing to higher ed, including the expectation of a big increase in deferred enrollment.

ARTS/CULTURE

WinnCompanies, the owner of a factory converted into apartments in Peabody, is taking down the old smokestack but preserving the base for preservation as a historical park. (Daily Item)

Two Brockton filmmakers have begun working on a documentary that examines the fierce debate surrounding immigration in the US. (The Enterprise) 

TRANSPORTATION

Most claimants in the Steamship Authority’s 2017 crash that injured more than a dozen people have settled, with one pushing for a trial. (Cape Cod Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins lash out against the nonprofit Massachusetts Bail Fund, which put up the money to free a convicted rapist who was being held on new rape charges and was arrested on yet another sexual assault charge within days of being let out. (Boston Herald)

The SJC rules that police officers who want to conduct surveillance using cameras mounted on poles outside a suspect’s house must get a warrant. (Gloucester Daily Times)

There appears to be a trend of Chinese nationals setting up marijuana grow operations in rural areas — including ones that just got busted in Western Massachusetts. (MassLive)

A State Police trooper who was previously disciplined for recording traffic stops without authorization is fired, apparently over a social media post. (MassLive)

MEDIA

Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab takes an in-depth look at his ex-colleague Ken Doctor’s foray into local news with the startup Lookout Local.

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, the executive editor of the nonprofit Salt Lake Tribune, resigns over differences with Paul Huntsman, the paper’s board chair and its chief benefactor. (Salt Lake Tribune)