By Kirsten Williams, Staff Writer
Feb. 1, 2021, marked the return of students to the Vermont Law School campus for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes online last year. “It is with great excitement and pleasure that I can say today there were in-person classes on the VLS campus for the first time since Mar. 6, 2020,” wrote Interim Vice Dean of Students, Joe Brennan.
Brennan also commended the “numerous students, staff, and faculty [who] have put in countless hours to open our campus in a safe manner.” As more students slowly return to campus, Brennan emphasized the importance of doing it right: “We are committed to maintaining and increasing access to campus, but we need your help and cooperation to ensure that we are in compliance with the regulations we all must follow.”
A small cohort of 1Ls—comprised of traditional fall-starts and deferred spring-starts—lead the charge. Last fall, VLS administration informed 1L students already living in or near South Royalton (and those planning to live in town for the spring semester) that some classes would be available residentially.
Not all the 1L classes are available, so those in the Spring Semester Hybrid (SSH) section still have to take some classes virtually. For the most part, however, SSH students seem positive and happy with their decision to participate in the hybrid section.
“While the classroom dynamic is still so different to what it was pre-COVID, wearing a mask and social distancing has been worth it to finally have class without technological issues or my cat walking across my screen,” said 1L Kristina O’Keefe.
1L Boebin Park echoed the sentiment. “I do not regret going in-person for classes. I find it easier to focus in class and talk to my professors. I truly think that in-person classes solidify the law school experience compared to the online version,” she said, commenting on the impact in-person classes have on her law school experience.
1L Caitlyn Cournoyer came to VLS directly after undergrad and had never experienced online classes. She noted that in-person classes have “truly changed” her law school experience this far. “Seeing your classmates and professors in person, even socially distanced and masked, allows for more socialization that we all took for granted,” she said.
Students currently wishing access to campus must adhere to a bi-weekly, self-testing schedule, administered by VLS staff. On-campus COVID-19 testing began on January 13. O’Keefe said that the testing schedule provides her “with some peace of mind during this weird time.”
“The testing protocol, and distancing on campus has been incredibly smooth,” said 1L Tomi Fennell, commenting on the mandatory testing protocol. “Ashley Ziai’s direction has made it so that we all know exactly what role we play, as students, in keeping the VLS community and campus healthy and safe!” Ziai manages VLS Mental Health Services and Academic Accommodations.
Moving forward, VLS currently plans to hold summer 2021 classes and events in-person. A final decision will be announced by April 1, 2021. “I hope to be able to announce more positive news about increasing access to campus in the future,” said Brennan. “Thank you for your commitment to ensuring a safe and healthy environment for the entire VLS community.”