Atlantic bubble rules lead to new schedules for some N.S. universities
Start of winter semester will be delayed at St. FX, Acadia to allow students to isolate post-Christmas
Universities across Nova Scotia are making changes to their calendars as it looks more and more like the Atlantic bubble won't burst in time for the holidays.
But in some cases, giving students time to go home is coming at the cost of the February winter break.
Nova Scotia requires anyone who leaves the Atlantic region to isolate for 14 days when they return.
Acadia University in Wolfville expects about 50 students to stay through the Christmas season, in part because of that rule. With so many others potentially leaving the bubble, the school has pushed back the start of the next semester to Jan. 17.
"I think it is essential," said Brendan MacNeil, president of the Acadia Students' Union.
"Otherwise our students would only have a few days home, and have to actually travel back to school on or around Christmas Day."
'A much-needed break'
MacNeil has been part of the senate negotiations to change the schedule. He said it has been a complex process in an already stressful year.
"It gives a much-needed break in between semesters so students can take this time off to reflect, as well as faculty to prepare."
But in order to delay the start of the term, Acadia's typical week off in February has been cut to just two days. MacNeil said students are grateful to have any time off at all.
"We were adamant on having this break in the middle of the semester simply because of the amount of evidence of the importance of a break like this on students' mental health, and as well in reducing suicide rates in our student population," he said.
Acadia isn't alone. St. Francis Xavier — another university holding in-person classes this year — will start courses online in mid-January to allow students to isolate before heading to class on Jan. 20.
The changes mean the winter reading week is cancelled.
St. FX considers study days
Kyler Bell, a spokesperson for the Antigonish university, acknowledged that's not ideal.
"Recognizing the stress on students and the importance of mental health, we are looking at the potential of inserting study days (no classes) within the term," he said in an email.
"The discussion is currently happening as to when they should be."
The schedule changes aren't happening everywhere. Dalhousie University expects about 2,000 students to head to class in person next semester, while the rest of its courses will be online.
The university is moving ahead with its startup date of Jan. 6, and the full winter break is still in the books.
"Where possible, instructors have been asked to make accommodations to support students who cannot attend in-person classes in early January due to self-isolation requirements," spokesperson Janet Bryson wrote in an email.
Challenging for students
For MacNeil at Acadia, all these changes are a lot to take in for students who have been bombarded with change. Online classes are largely self-directed, he said, which means a lot of extra work.
"In an online environment, it's shifted more toward weekly assignments and weekly quizzes," he said. "That's been challenging for students who, in some cases, still have midterms and essays."
It wasn't until last week that students living on campus could have a friend from another residence over to their room, which he said has gone a long way to help their mental health.
"It was something that we firmly believed from the beginning didn't pose much risk," he said. "We're happy to see that change."