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College of Charleston students voice mental health concerns after spring break canceled

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Signs informing students about ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are set up throughout the College of Charleston on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

After the College of Charleston announced it cancelled spring break next semester as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of students are calling on the school to reverse the decision. 

The college said Wednesday it cancelled students' spring break in an effort to minimize the health risk associated with "travel-related transmission."

Instead of a traditional break, the school designated two days for on-campus studying, March 2 and March 4.

An online petition titled "Save CofC Spring Break for Mental Health!" quickly garnered more than 900 signatures after it was posted Wednesday afternoon. 

"The pandemic has already just contributed so much fear and anxiety into our mental health sphere," said petition creator Kyle Anderson, a freshman.

Anderson said he created the petition 30 minutes after the college announced its modified schedule for the spring semester. 

There are other routes the college could take to keep students' break intact while still being mindful of the pandemic, Anderson said, such as requiring all students to get tested for the virus prior to their return to campus. 

The college could also attempt to limit students' outside travel over break, although successful enforcement would likely be a challenge. 

Anderson said it's unfair to expect students to succeed if they're required to spend the entire semester without any extended time off. 

"I feel like it's super important for students to know there's more to life than writing essays and taking exams," he said. 

This isn't the first time the college has nixed students' previously scheduled time off. Officials announced in July the school would cancel students' fall break this semester as a result of the pandemic. 

Suzanne Austin, CofC provost and executive vice president of academic affairs, said in a statement the decision to cancel spring break was not made lightly. 

"Like many other colleges and universities around the country that also eliminated spring break, we are committed to maintaining the health and safety of our campus and surrounding community while sustaining an exceptional learning experience," she said. 

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread, she said, "we simply cannot risk having our students travel away from and back to campus during these uncertain times."

The college knows that students need time to decompress, which is why the revised calendar included two weekdays with no classes, she said. The spring semester will also end earlier than normal. 

The mental and physical health of students is a top priority, Austin said, and the college is confident its academic and wellness services "will provide the necessary level of care and concern to help our students through this unprecedented period of history.”

Under the updated spring 2021 academic calendar, students will start classes Jan. 11 and will have a one day off to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day a week later. 

After that, there are no scheduled breaks until the first designated study day March 2. The last day of the semester is April 21, and finals week will start two days later. 

Contact Jenna Schiferl at 843-937-5764. Follow her on Twitter at @jennaschif.

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