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Montana State is making plans for its extended winter break as fall semester is scheduled to end early this year, while also announcing its spring semester calendar.

MSU’s winter break this year will start early on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, and go until the first day of the spring semester on Jan. 11, 2021. The university is cheekily calling the extended winter break its “snow-mester,” where students will have the option of taking additional classes.

“It’s an opportunity because we have this altered calendar with a long winter break for students to get ahead or make additional progress toward their degrees,” said Michael Becker, spokesman for MSU.

Becker said the winter term would have similar offerings to the summer semester, with a lot of 100 and 200 level courses critical to majors. He said the majority will be online but there will be a limited number of face-to-face classes.

The “snow-mester” will go from Nov. 30 to Jan. 5. The schedule of available courses will be available on Oct. 15, and registration opens towards the end of the month.

Although students will need to pay $250 per credit hour, Becker said they wouldn’t have to pay tuition as long as they are registered for at least 12 credits for the spring semester.

He said the university, which also started two weeks earlier than normal, planned to end the semester by Thanksgiving to reduce students traveling to and from campus during the holidays.

While residence halls will close on Nov. 25 at noon, Becker said students can sign up to stay in the dorms over the break for an additional fee per night.

The university is also moving forward with its winter commencement plans. Although there is more to be worked out ahead of the ceremony, Becker said it is scheduled to be outdoors in Bobcat Stadium on Nov. 22.

MSU also released its spring semester calendar last week, which will look similar to the fall. The semester is scheduled to end April 30, earlier than previous years.

In a letter sent to university presidents, the Montana Board of Regents and Gov. Steve Bullock, the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said campuses should plan for largely in-person instruction for the spring semester.

“Faculty should also be prepared to transition courses to remote and/or online delivery if necessary, with minimal disruption to course learning and schedules,” Christian said in his email.

Shortly after, MSU announced calendar information for the spring semester, based on guidance from Clayton and the Montana Office of the Commission of Higher Education.

“Our spring semester will mirror our fall semester in that it will be largely in-person instruction, and we will not have spring break for 2021 — a change aimed at reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission and allowing us to end the semester early,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado in a university-wide email sent on Oct. 1.

In his letter, Christian said he understood the importance of spring break for faculty research, experiential learning trips, a time of rest and to align with local school district schedules.

“We know, however, that our most challenging periods for COVID-19 spread are those that directly follow long weekends and other periods of heavy travel within and outside Montana,” he said. “As such, the community health risk that would stem from allowing a traditional spring break outweighs the costs associated with using that time as an instructional period.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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