An executive with one of Hamilton’s major post-secondary facilities says the school is on board with the Ontario government’s push to reopen campuses for in-person learning during the 2022 winter semester.
Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster University’s associate vice-president and dean of students, says the school is ready and has completed a number of infrastructure improvements to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19, which has kept much of the schools educating online.
“There has been work done over the course of the pandemic — things like filtration systems in classrooms, we have our cleaning protocols all in place, people are familiar with all the masking, we put our vaccine mandate in place,” Van Koughnett told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.
“So we’ve done everything we possibly can to put health first.”
Large parts of McMaster and Mohawk College learning are still remote, particularly for courses in which in-person delivery is not required.
It’s a differing state from their counterparts in London, where both Western and Fanshawe have essentially seen the bulk of students return to a normal fall semester.
Last week during a session of the Ontario legislature, Progressive Conservatives used high vaccination rates, low cases counts and the well-being of students as reasoning to put college and university students who didn’t return in September into classrooms this January.
Colleges and universities minister Jill Dunlop referred MPPs to the Ford government’s $26 million in health support for post-secondary students last year and a forthcoming $8.7 million based on the fall economic statement.
“Students shouldn’t have to worry about the uncertainty around winter semester,” said Dunlop.
“That is why we are funding with our post-secondary partners to provide support for institutions as they prepare for winter 2022 to open safely reopen.”
Hamilton’s two biggest post-secondary institutions, McMaster and Mohawk College, joined a list of Ontario schools requiring COVID-19 vaccinations amid the anticipated return to campus last fall.
All students, faculty, staff and visitors attending the facilities have to have proof they are fully vaccinated with some exemptions for medical conditions and those who can provide a “validated human rights ground.”
Van Koughnett said those that qualify for the exemption will have to test every 48 to 72 hours during the winter semester at McMaster.
“There’s a handful of those cases out of our 35,000 students that we have, but the rest are fully vaccinated,” Van Koughnett said.
Mohawk College president Ron McKerlie said he expects the bulk of enrolled students back on campus in January with continued adherence to COVID safety protocols such as social distancing, mask wearing and vaccinations.
The college’s vaccination rate is approaching 90 per cent and is expected to exceed 95 per cent by the end of the fall semester.
However, McKerlie admits the emergence of the Omicron variant in recent days paints another undefined picture of what could come next semester.
“You know, this is such a moving target, and I think that’s what we’ve seen,” said McKerlie.
“We just we don’t know what’s going to happen next, so we have to be prepared.”
Van Koughnett says the winter semester will still see some online learning for those who want it from asynchronous courses, but generally limited remote otions are planned for the winter semester.
“If you’re a full-time student, with a full course load, you’re going to need to be on campus,” said Van Koughnett.
“The minute you start trying to say, okay,…anyone who wants to stay off we’re going to design the curriculum around you, the whole model…begins to fall apart a bit.”