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'We intend to return to some in-person learning in February': CU chancellor says remote learning to continue for at least a month

CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano said they'll reassess if the plan is feasible by mid-January. Spring commencement will be virtual.

BOULDER, Colo. — The University of Colorado-Boulder (CU) announced they hope to allow students and faculty to return to some in-person learning in February.

A letter from CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano said classes at the beginning of spring semester, which begins Jan. 14, 2021, will be fully remote for at least one month.

DiStefano's letter said CU intends to allow some in-person learning and on-campus school activities to resume starting Feb. 15. School leaders said they hope to have an update and more information for students and faculty on Jan. 14.

During a media briefing Thursday afternoon, 9NEWS' Marc Sallinger asked DiStefano if students will receive a break on tuition or tuition credits. DiStefano replied, "Not at this time. We feel very strongly that students are getting a quality education with remote learning."

>Below: Full media briefing announcing spring semester plans

In the letter, DiStefano said the school "made the difficult decision to hold the spring 2021 commencement ceremony virtually."

"At this point in time, as we look to the future, there doesn't seem to be the opportunity to host the type of in-person commencement that we normally do," DiStefano said. "In previous commencements we've had up to 20,000 individuals in our stadium. Given that number, we've not seen any indication that the county nor the state would allow us to hold outside events with that number of individuals."

People wanting to hear more from CU leaders are asked to join a campus Q&A session at 12:30 p.m on Tuesday, Dec. 15

The school said they will do their "best to avoid the back-and-forth shifts that created uncertainty" for students and faculty in the fall.

School officials said they wanted to get their spring semester plans out as soon as possible.

"One of the things we've learned is that the specter of uncertainty for our faculty and our students was very disruptive to them," Provost Russell Moore said. "What we're trying to do is to provide as much certainty and lead-time as possible, recognizing that we don't have a perfect crystal ball into the future."

Students moving in to residence halls will be delayed, the school said. Costs for room and board will be reduced accordingly, DiStefano said.

"When we're in level red, which it's going to be for the foreseeable future, the personal gathering limitation was two people," CU's interim Executive Vice Chancellor Patrick O'Rourke said. "It was a better course of action to delay the move in until we can actually be in a position to be able to offer them a better experience."

The school also asked students who aren't in Boulder currently to stay at their permanent-home communities to reduce the risk of travel-related COVID-19 transmission. 

DiStefano said that when spring semester begins, students and faculty can expect weekly updates with opportunities to give feedback to campus leaders. He said the school will also communicate decisions clearly, transparently and as quickly as possible. 

"On a personal note, I’m just as disappointed as you that we won’t be on campus together, seeing a friendly face on Varsity Bridge, cheering on our Buffs, or gazing at the Flatirons and our other remarkable surroundings," DiStefano added in the letter. "We are all tired of the pandemic-related changes and disruptions to our CU Boulder experience and to our day-to-day lives. But, we need to hang on and continue to meet these challenges as a community. With the distribution of new vaccines on the horizon, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, though it will take time yet for us to get there. We are reaching the culmination of a truly challenging period, and I am grateful to you for your perseverance."

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CU switched to full remote learning on Nov. 16 after a rise in coronavirus cases in and around the Denver and Boulder areas.

Some students and off-campus properties were put on quarantine after "ignoring public health orders," health officials said. 

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