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Towson University cancelled classes for the rest of this week and asked students to prepare for remote learning in an attempt to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.
Many Maryland college students are headed to spring break next week, and they likely won’t return to their campuses as multiple universities said Tuesday that they will opt for remote instruction to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Towson University and Morgan State University have canceled classes for the rest of this week, as did the private Loyola University of Maryland and Notre Dame of Maryland University. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County has canceled classes on Thursday and Friday and will hold online classes in the two weeks following spring break. Additionally, Johns Hopkins University canceled in-person classes for all students starting Wednesday, and planned to transition to remote instruction at least through April 12.
“It is all a matter of balancing the risks and being as prudent as we can in the public health sense,” said Joann Broughman, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs and student life for the University System of Maryland. Jay A. Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, “strongly urged” the system’s 12 campuses to prepare for remote instruction for at least two weeks after the break.
Perman said the campuses would remain open for students, including those from abroad, who can’t or hadn’t planned to go home or away during the weeklong break.
College presidents in the system have wide latitude to make their own decisions, but if they followed Perman’s directive, some 177,000 undergraduate and graduate students would continue their studies online after the break.
Several of his presidents quickly issued directives Tuesday for faculty to begin online teaching when classes resume March 23.
The flagship University of Maryland, College Park told students that before leaving for break to “please take all essential belongings, medications, and materials” from dorms and workspaces. Classes are canceled the week after break, March 23-29, and they will be taught remotely for at least the following two weeks. Students should plan not to return to classes on campus until at least April 10, although the university will remain open and will accommodate those who need to be there.
The fast-moving and fluid situation threw campuses across the state into a flurry of activity as students and faculty tried to plan for any number of scenarios.
“It’s a little chaotic,” said Ireland Lesley, student government president at the College Park campus. “Right now a lot of students are in this limbo.”
But Lesley, 21, a senior, said she is confident that school, health and government officials are working together to come up with “what’s best for the health and safety of our campus."
“It’s really not impacting young people as much. But we’re trying to take precautions for the most vulnerable members of our community,” she said of older, higher-risk students and staff.
Several faculty members said that while they believe in-person instruction is most effective, they understand the need to address the potential spread of the virus. They expressed concern about classes such as science labs that can’t be conducted remotely.
Towson University faculty “take teaching seriously,” said Jennifer Ballengee, an English professor who chairs the school’s Academic Senate. “I think a lot of us worry that the online class might be somewhat less effective; in other words, we don’t like the idea of students not getting the best learning experience they can have.”
Still, she said, students and faculty understand the need to go off campus when possible.
“This is a public health crisis and it means that we can’t expect anything to be as usual,” Ballengee said. "I had a good talk about it with my students. We talked about how it’s a bit unusual in the country at this time to think of doing something ‘for the public good,’ but in this case that’s what has to happen.
“While they themselves might not suffer much from the virus, if they were to contract it, they might spread it to someone who could be severely affected by it, or even die,” she said. “In addition, the spread of the virus could put a severe strain on our hospital system, affecting all kinds of people who might need hospital care anyway — someone having a baby, or having a heart attack or suffering some other kind of health issue.”
Jasmine White, 21, a junior at Coppin State University in Baltimore, said she saw “a lot of people already packing” in her dorm Tuesday.
Coppin officials told students Tuesday that after next week’s break, professors would teach classes remotely and students should prepare to remain off campus at least until April 6.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said White, who co-chairs the school’s Student Activities Programming Board. “I think our top priority is for students to be safe."
White said students are tech-savvy and already comfortable online, and Coppin was offering video instruction on how to navigate the Blackboard digital learning app.
“This is not just a campus issue,” she said. “It’s a worldwide emergency.”
Students at St. John’s College in Annapolis are on break this week. They won’t be back on campus for an additional two weeks, returning for class March 30, college spokesman Michael O’Connor wrote in an email statement.
Anne Arundel Community College, with campuses in Arnold, Glen Burnie and Hanover, goes on spring break Monday. It will be extended an additional week, with students also coming back March 30.
Frostburg State University will remain open this week, however all classes will shift to online instruction until at least April 6. The campus will remain open following spring break, with food service, the library and the computer labs available to students.
Salisbury University has canceled classes on Thursday and Friday of this week, and will conduct classes online from March 23 to April 3. Students should not return to campus until April 4.
The University of Baltimore will move its classes online for at least two weeks beginning March 23.
Nine people in Maryland have now tested positive for the virus in Maryland. The novel strain of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has sickened 118,596 people across the world and killed 4,262 of those. There have been 959 cases of the virus confirmed across more than 30 U.S. states, with 28 dead from the disease.
Perman gave university presidents the leeway to tailor their preparations to their individual campuses and give staff enough time to prepare for the coming weeks.
Perman said he was consulting with the USM presidents and public health experts about additional operational issues, such as services offered to students who have to remain on campus during and after spring break, as well as upcoming large gatherings, such as graduation and athletic events. He said he expected to provide additional guidance in the coming days.
“Given the residential nature of the universities within the System,” Perman said, “USM must apply an abundance of caution to ensure that students and employees are protected and safe.”
UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski said in a university announcement that classes are canceled Thursday and Friday. The decision was made to allow students, staff and faculty “time to prepare for the transition to fully online instruction when classes resume after Spring Break," the announcement said.
The university is advising students to not return to campus for at least two weeks after break and said online instruction will take place instead. Staff members are expected to return to work March 19.
UMBC will remain open for “essential purposes," including the academic and administrative offices. Campus events also are canceled through April 6.
Morgan State University has decided to cancel classes for the remainder of the week and will go to remote teaching after spring break, according to spokesman Dell Jackson. At the end of the two-week period, the university will reassess the situation to determine what to do next, he said.
The Peabody Conservatory, part of Johns Hopkins University, announced that from Wednesday to Sunday all classes, lessons, rehearsals, performances and events are canceled. This includes Wednesday’s PSO concert at Shriver Hall, all four public performances of La Rondine, and any student recitals scheduled during this time.
Loyola said all in-person instruction is discontinued starting Wednesday for the rest of the month. After spring break, faculty will teach all classes online starting March 18.
Residence halls are expected to close Friday and all students should return home “as soon as possible,” the university said. The university said it will remain open and expects classes to resume April 1. Employees are expected to report “as scheduled."
Notre Dame of Maryland officials said classes will resume via remote instruction after spring break next week through at least April 5, with the exception of programmatic clinical, practicums, and internships. Face-to-face classes are tentatively scheduled to resume on April 6.
The class cancellations this week will allow faculty and staff to finalize plans for remote instruction beginning March 23, Notre Dame officials said in a statement. Employees were told to report to work as scheduled.
However, students were told to take home all essential belongings including medication and course material when the Notre Dame residents halls close Friday at 3 p.m.
In an email to students and faculty on Tuesday, Towson University wrote that it will cancel classes for the rest of the week starting Wednesday. A follow-up email from the university official canceled all Towson-sponsored events and activities through April 4. Additionally the university said all face-to-face classes would resume April 6. After spring break, which extends from March 14-22, the university is planning to institute distance learning.
“Beginning Wednesday, March 11, TU is cancelling all university classes for the remainder of the week on all campuses (including [Towson University in Northeast Maryland], Shady Grove, College of Southern Maryland, and Hagerstown) to prepare for potential remote teaching, learning and working after spring break,” the email reads.
“When preparing to leave for spring break, we ask students to take all essential belongings, medications, and materials from your residence hall or work space in case it should become necessary to restrict return access to campus for at least two weeks,” the email continues.
Towson wrote that there are no confirmed cases on the university’s campuses, but the school recognizes “that these are extraordinary times that require exceptional measures to deal with a health risk that affects us all.”
A group of 14 students at Loyola have self-quarantined after school officials learned they might have come into contact with an individual who may have had the virus while attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor last month, spokeswoman Rita Buettner said.
The last day of face-to-face classes before spring break will be Friday. Residence halls will close at 5 p.m. on Sunday, and classes will resume — but in an online format — on March 23.
David Kass, a finance professor at College Park, said he’s canceled an annual trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, with his students. He’s been practicing how to conduct his classes online, and said that’s where university instruction was headed even before the outbreak.
He still prefers to teach in person, and wonders how he will be able to gauge class reactions.
“I read the body language in the room and I can react,” he said. "I look to see if a student is confused. I can sense if they’re engaged.
“But obviously, I have 50 students in each class,” Kass said, “I can’t see how they’re reacting in 50 different remote locations.”