College to evacuate students from Mexico
By Jennifer Liu, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Dartmouth will evacuate students participating in the College's Language Study Abroad program in Cholula, Mexico, amid concern over the swine flu outbreak that is believed to have originated in the country, College spokesman Roland Adams said on Tuesday. A group of 11 undergraduates, a faculty member and a teaching assistant had been living in Mexico on the LSA.
Students were notified on Tuesday that the LSA would be cut short, according to Dean of the Faculty Carol Folt. The College has arranged for the participants to fly out of the state of Puebla, where Cholula is located, to Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, she said. From there, the College will make further arrangements for the students to travel to their homes.
The College has worked closely International SOS, a company that provides emergency assistance for groups traveling abroad, to organize travel arrangements, according to associate Dean of the Faculty for International and Interdisciplinary Studies Lindsay Whaley.
The decision to pull the students from Mexico was "precautionary" and was motivated by an early Tuesday-morning recommendation by director of College Health Services John Turco, Folt said. Turco, Folt, Dean of the College Tom Crady and Whaley made the final decision.
As of yet, there have been no confirmed cases of swine flu in Cholula, Folt said. The decision to evacuate the students was driven in part by increasing reports of flu infections in Mexico and other countries, she said.
"We have been closely monitoring the spread of disease, but we are of course aware that Mexico City, which is just about an hour away from Cholula, is the supposed epicenter of the outbreak," Folt said.
None of the LSA participants have reported or exhibited symptoms, and there have been no indications that the students have been exposed to swine flu, according to Folt.
Turco, who has been in direct communication daily with emergency planning groups at Dartmouth as well as with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, made the recommendation in the interest of safety, Folt said.
The decision was also driven by concerns about the students' academic experience, Folt said. The Universidad de las Americas, where the Dartmouth students are studying, was closed on Monday.
Worsening travel conditions in Mexico could prevent students from taking advantage of field trips that contribute to the cultural component of the LSA program, Folt said.
College officials expedited their decision to end the LSA program early to allow students to receive academic credit for this term, she said.
"We didn't want to prolong this and wait another week and wait another week because then we'd lose our chance to really make the academic program very strong," Folt explained.
College officials had decided on Monday to continue the program, Folt said, but had developed a contingency plan in case circumstances changed.
The World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert level from level three to level four on Monday, indicating there is sustained human-to-human transmission. This is the first time the alert level has been raised to four.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued a travel warning on Monday recommending that people avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico.
The involved students have been advised to remain at home for seven days once they return from Mexico, in accordance with standard medical practices, Folt said.
If a student has contracted the disease, symptoms will manifest well before the end of the seven-day period, she said.
Turco spoke with the students' parents Tuesday night to address the parents' concerns, Folt said.
The Office of the Dean of the Faculty is working with professors in the Spanish and Portuguese department to develop an alternative plan of study so that students can receive academic credit for the term, Folt said. The office has proposed bringing the students back to campus to complete their coursework or allowing them to study online from home, Folt said, but has not yet determined a final course of action.
College officials are waiting for Francine A'Ness, the Spanish professor who is leading the LSA, to return to Dartmouth before assessing the academic and logistic constraints of restructuring the students' courses, Folt said.
"The goal is credit -- to have [the students] be able to complete all three courses that they were doing there in a way that makes a lot of sense and is still a good experience," she said.
Folt said she suspected the involved students are "disappointed" about having to finish their LSA prematurely.
"Who wants to leave an FSP or LSA?" she said. "I think that's always really hard for people."
The College is also working to evacuate other members of the Dartmouth community currently in Cholula, including A'Ness' husband, Spanish professor Douglas Moody, and their son, as well as a Dartmouth student studying at the university on a transfer term, Whaley and Folt said.
The College is monitoring the status of its off-campus programs in other countries, Whaley said.