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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Although the Eastern Townships has been designated a red zone, university, college and high school residential buildings are remaining open during the holiday break and there are no signs of a mass exodus of students.

Bishop’s University Dean of Student Affairs Stine Linden-Andersen told The Record they are not planning to shut down. And while a majority of classes are moving to an online format, many students living in residence have made no mention of leaving their dorm rooms.

“This could change tomorrow, you know, we’re seeing what the students are deciding and trying to support them in making the choice that’s best for them,” said Linden-Andersen, acknowledging the unpredictability of the pandemic.

The university is also receiving an influx of international students for the winter semester, after the student visa process was delayed by several months due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Canada imposed strict border restrictions.

Students coming from outside of the country will be placed in a mandatory two-week quarantine, per the Quebec government’s instructions. The university set up specific areas for students in quarantine. And Bishop’s is providing meals and other support services.

Linden-Andersen added that there are strict rules for people living on campus, especially for visitation. Students are currently not allowed to bring any outside visitors into residence, she said, which is in accordance with other Quebec universities.

But, she continued, students are allowed to leave campus. They aren’t prisoners, Linden-Andersen joked, Lennoxville is their home. At the end of the day, she said, the university is putting a lot of responsibility in the hands of its students; and so far it’s been positive.

“What we try to do, you know, this is really not a case where we tell them what to do and they have to do it because we say so, this is a case of if we all want to keep this community as safe as we can, then we all have to work together to figure this out,” said Linden-Andersen.

Ross Murray, director of communications at Stanstead College, said the high school is maintaining status quo when it comes to its student residence buildings. The only thing that changed, he explained, is how they handle day students.

After the province turned red last week, Murray said the school offered students living in the area a chance to move into its campus residence bubble to avoid having those students going completely to remote learning. But, he explained, the situation is constantly in motion.

“Honestly, because it’s so unpredictable, we’re going really months at a time, so this gets us to Dec. 4 when our term ends and then we’re not back until Jan. 6. We have to factor our international students in there too,” said Murray.

Stanstead is home to a large international student population. Murray said many of the school’s overseas students have been studying online since the start of the school year, waiting for student visas. A student from Japan arrived in Stanstead earlier this week.

“We have all of those international students to deal with, so what’s happening there is a lot of them will stay on campus for the duration of the break,” he said. “We have essentially a Christmas camp happening, so we’ll have activities for those kids to do.”

Some students are going home for the holidays, though, according to Murray, which means they need to come up with a return plan. The idea is to have students return between Jan. 4 and 6, he said, where they will quarantine on campus together for two weeks.

Classes will begin Jan. 7, but everybody is doing it online for two weeks and then everybody is back on campus, in person, on Jan. 21, Murray continued. But this is all tentative. The hope is that by the time they return the Townships will be back to an orange or yellow alert.

“We’re hoping by then the red zone will be over and our day students can go back and forth, but we don’t know, so we’ll have to see,” said Murray.

Champlain College Lennoxville Campus Director Nancy Beattie said she hasn’t seen any lease cancellations since the region went into COVID-19 high alert. Residence buildings stay open throughout the holidays, she said, all the school asks is for students to be responsible.

Students come from all over Quebec to attend Champlain and live on campus. They aren’t holding any of them back from travelling home for the holidays. But, Beattie said, the school has been preaching caution and awareness since September.

“When we were an orange region and we had students living in the red regions we were really discouraging them from going home, but we can’t prevent them from doing that,” said Beattie. “All we can do is educate, so we really emphasize the education and awareness portion.”

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