The Vermont Law School will hold all classes online this fall in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the college said Monday.
The decision comes as higher education institutions across the nation are grappling with how best to balance learning experience with safety amid the virus' continued spread.
"The most demanding challenge posed by the pandemic is uncertainty," said Thomas McHenry, president and dean of Vermont Law School, in a press release. "We want to provide as much notice to our students, faculty, and staff, in order to plan appropriately and deliver the high-quality course content and access to faculty that VLS is known for."
The small private South Royalton law school canceled all on-campus events beginning in mid-March and announced in April that its more than 45 summer classes would occur virtually due to the pandemic. The college said those classes are being held in a "synchronous" format that allows students to participate in live sessions or attend the class on their own schedule.
Fall classes will proceed under the same format, and the school will offer a January start date for first-year Juris Doctor students, the college said.
Most Vermont schools — including the University of Vermont, the Vermont State Colleges System and Middlebury College — have already announced plans to return to in-person learning in the fall, though with wide-ranging safety requirements in place that will impact virtually every aspect of college life.
Vermont Law School does not offer on-campus housing and therefore does not rely on room and board revenues, as do many other colleges.
Explaining its decision to remain online, the law school noted that while Vermont is a "low-risk" state, the pandemic is raging in areas of the country where many students reside, which could make it difficult for students to come to campus or return home.
"The decision to move to online classes only was not arrived at lightly," the college wrote in the press release.
The Vermont Law School offers both law and master's degrees. It has 550 students who study on campus and another 140 online students. The school has faced financial challenges in recent years, reflected in a 2018 move to slash salaries and erase tenure for most professors to address a mounting deficit. But college officials have said a significant restructuring has placed the school on much more stable ground.
The college said Monday that more details about the fall semester — including access to the campus library and operation of the school's legal clinics — are forthcoming.