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Wash U and SLU announce fall start dates, taking opposite strategies against COVID-19

"I'm kind of worried that the best that I can do right now wouldn't be the best that I could do in a different situation," senior Hannah Chapman said

ST. LOUIS — Washington University and Saint Louis University both announced changes to the fall semester, but the two institutions are taking opposite approaches.

SLU moved up its undergrad start date to Aug. 17 while Wash U will wait until Sept. 14.

"Actually, it was funny because my mom got the email before I did," SLU senior Hannah Chapman said. "She told me, 'Hey, come here. Your start date changed.' I'm like, 'What?!'"

While Chapman was surprised her mom knew about the schedule change before her, the new, earlier date itself provided another eye-opener.

"Initially, it was kind of a little bit shocking because I'm getting ready to take the LSAT, a law school admissions test. The class actually ends three days before the start of SLU classes," Chapman said. "I was hoping that I would have a little bit of time in between my LSAT and starting school but, unfortunately, that's not the case."

SLU President Fred Pestello said the decision was made by a 45-person University Leadership Board, the members of which come from different roles at the school.

"There are many more questions than there are answers at this point, and that's pretty much been the situation since the middle of March," Pestello said. "There's much yet that needs to be resolved, and we pride ourselves on having a large and diverse group with many voices at the table so that all perspectives and opinions can be offered, and we can drive toward a values-based decision."

In a letter to stakeholders, Pestello wrote "starting early will allow more in-person instruction before a potential resurgence in the number of COVID-19 cases."

For SLU junior Emily Arciszewski, the earlier on-campus start is good news. It means she'll get the chance to accumulate clinical hours for her nursing degree, learning that was delayed in the spring.

Though it's not without consequences. Her family vacation ends as the new semester starts, creating a challenge as she moves into a new apartment.

"We will probably have to reorganize how we're going to move her back into her apartment for that semester. But all in all, Ems, we will work out as long as you're safe," mom Kristy Arciszewski said to her daughter.

READ MORE: SLU plans to start fall semester early due to COVID-19

Washington University's later date was required to provide enough time for changes on campus.

In a Q&A, leaders provided this answer: "At WashU, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff guide our decision making regarding the academic calendar. In evaluating scenarios for how best to manage the uncertainties associated with containment of COVID-19, the university determined that a delayed start provided additional time to ready the campus, optimize best practices in health and safety, and slowly and intentionally transition students, faculty and staff back into residential living and learning."

READ MORE: Washington University announces staggered start dates for return to campus in the fall

As students head back to their respective institutions of higher learning, Jennings School District Student Services Director Dr. Veronica Macklin said parents need to think not only about how they'll return, but how they'll leave early, if needed. 

It's a lesson she learned with her own son, who attends Xavier University in New Orleans.

"We had a hurricane exit plan. We got a flooding exit plan. We never had a pandemic plan," Macklin said.

She added that it's also important for parents to ask hard questions of their children's colleges and universities, prepare them mentally for the challenges ahead and physically arm them with the Lysol wipes and face masks they may need for their own health.

For Chapman, her pandemic plan includes doing her best in the last few months before her December graduation.

"This is a really unprecedented time, so obviously I'm going to do the best that I can. But I'm kind of worried that the best that I can do right now wouldn't be the best that I could do in a different situation," she said. "I'm really just trying not to sell myself short and just kind of keep chugging ahead with what I've been dealt."

And that is certainly a good strategy for all of us.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

READ ALSO: Parkway Schools working on 3 different plans for the fall