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MLC sends students home

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Martin Luther College pastor track senior Quinn Bilitz of Madison, Wis., carries some of his belongings to his vehicle Tuesday. Bilitz said he plans to go home as the college pivots from in-person to distance learning this week. Bilitz said he hopes to return to campus for winter semester which starts Jan. 25.

NEW ULM — Martin Luther College is sending students home and will switch to distance learning in response to COVID-19 cases on campus.

President Rich Gurgel announced at a Tuesday chapel service that face to face classroom instruction will pivot to distance learning this week.

“We will be pausing all instruction until Friday (Oct.30) to give those who are able to return home safely a comfortable amount of time to do so,” read a COVID-19 campus update on the college website.

“The administration of MLC, in consultation with Brown County Public Health (BCPH) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), made the shift in instruction methods out of an abundance of caution, not because the campus is unsafe, but in response to a growing number of individuals who require quarantine and isolation accommodations,” said MLC Public Relations Director Bill Pekrul.

“Serving these students effectively is taking our quarantine and isolation spaces to maximum capacity,” said Pekrul. “Because of this, and because of the uncertainly of future cases, we cannot maintain the appropriate level of safety for our campus and continue face-to-face instruction.”

“Our campus is a safe place. The masking and distancing protocols, the quarantine and isolation procedures, continue to keep us safe under God’s blessing,” Gurgel told the campus family Tuesday. “There is no one to blame. There are many reasons to say words of thanks under God’s grace for what we did enjoy.

“But the rising number of positive test results (31 MLC confirmed positive cases, 13 total MLC cases recovered, as of the Friday, Oct. 23 MLC COVID-19 dashboard), and the rapidly growing number of close contacts that puts more students into quarantine, have brought the day when we cannot continue in face to face instruction and still maintain our safety protocols,” Gurgel said.

“None of us will argue that distance learning can replace everything we gain when we are able to live and meet together on this hill,” Gurgel said. “Yet, we are thankful for the digital tools that are available to us and for the hard work and faculty and staff that will enable learning and growth toward ministry to continue. We look forward to Jan. 25, when, God willing, we will see one another again.”

Pastor track seniori Quinn Bilitz of Madison, Wis., moved his personal belongings to his vehicle Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s unfortunate. We were all very excited to be on campus,” Bilitz said. “Then cases spiked. I understand it’s in the best interest of the student body and faculty (to move to distance learning). I look forward to coming back Jan. 25 (for the start of winter semester).”

Bilitz said he’ll continue to study which includes a lot of reading. Not all his reading is for school. He’s reading “Lord of the Rings, a fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien.

It appears he won’t have to quarantine himself. Bilitz said he tested negative for COVID-19 Monday.

Other MLC guidance included:

• Students are asked not to schedule impromptu group gatherings. Those who adhered to this request during these 10 weeks have helped us stay on campus. Please do not ignore the hard work that has been accomplished. Say our goodbyes digitally for the sake of your friends and families you are going home to.

• Students in isolation, quarantine, or awaiting test results, will maintain their campus residence.

• Student teachers who are completing their education requirements in local schools will retain MLC housing.

• Students with flights home that can’t be changed may stay on campus until their scheduled departure.

• Those with family or household members at home who are at high risk of severe complications from COVID-19 should practice a 14-day quarantine of some kind before returning to that setting (MDH recommendation).

• Students who wish to stay on campus to quarantine for 14 days before returning home are granted this permission.

• All students remaining on campus will continue to practice all the necessary safety precautions commensurate with their current health status.

• All sports are suspended.

• If students return home immediately, MDH and BCPH urge them to quarantine for 14 days to minimize any exposure to anyone in their household.

• For more information, visit https://mlc-wels.covid-19-updates

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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