Vermont Law School will be online in the fall; Dartmouth will stagger students

Dartmouth College
Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College. Photo by Geoff Hansen/Valley News

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Vermont Law School will hold all of its classes virtually in the fall, the school announced Monday, while Dartmouth College said that undergraduates would be allowed back to campus on an alternating basis, and that the vast majority of classes would be delivered online.

The two schools’ announcements come as coronavirus outbreaks are spiking across the country. In a statement announcing their decision, VLS officials noted that while case counts remain low in Vermont, many of the law school’s students hail from states where they are on the rise.

“The most demanding challenge posed by the pandemic is uncertainty,” VLS president Thomas McHenry said in a statement. “We want to provide as much notice to our students, faculty, and staff, in order to plan appropriately and deliver the high-quality course content and access to faculty that VLS is known for.”

Dartmouth’s administration announced Monday that, to accommodate social distancing and reserve sufficient housing for self-isolation in the event of a resurgence of the virus, the school would need to reduce the number of students on campus at any given time. 

Vermont Law School in South Royalton. Photo by Roger Crowley/VTDigger

More than half of all undergraduates are expected to return this fall, administrators said, but they will need to spend at least one term away from the school over the course of the year. All students will be provided with single-occupancy dorm rooms. To foster “class cohesion,” freshmen will receive priority to be on campus for the fall and spring terms. No student will be required to attend school in person.

“Any or all of our plans may be changed if we experience a significant health event on our campus, or if required by federal or state mandates,” Dartmouth president Phil Hanlon and provost Joseph Helble wrote in an email sent to the college’s students and employees. “Conversely, successful disease prevention or treatment efforts—such as the availability of a vaccine—could also shift the landscape.”

The majority of undergraduate courses and office hours at Dartmouth will be delivered online. Final exams for all undergrads and most graduate students will also be held remotely the week after Thanksgiving. And like many colleges, Dartmouth will send students home several days before the November holiday.

As at Middlebury College, Dartmouth students returning to campus will be required to quarantine for a period of time and test for the coronavirus.

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VLS’s plans stand in contrast to the vast majority of college reopening plans released from Vermont schools thus far. Most, including the University of Vermont, Middlebury, and St. Michael’s College, have said they are welcoming students back for on-campus, in-person instruction in the fall, albeit with a heavy blend of online classes and a raft of new health and safety protocols.

At UVM, the return of college students in Burlington has worried community members, many of whom complain that students are doing little to follow public health directives. The faculty union, meanwhile, is preparing to file a complaint with the Vermont Labor Relations Board.

VLS’s willingness to go remote could have something to do with the law school’s business model. Unlike traditional residential undergraduate institutions, which derive a hefty share of their revenues from room and board fees, VLS does not provide student housing.

The only other Vermont school to announce fully online operations in the fall is Goddard College. The Plainfield school does provide housing but operates according to a low-residency model, and its students already spend the bulk of the time working toward their degree remotely.

Dartmouth said a decision about fall athletics would fall to the Ivy League. An announcement is expected from the league in July.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is VTDigger's education reporter. Prior to Digger, Lola covered schools for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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