Capital Region

SUNY schools to move to online learning March 19 amid coronavirus threat

Colleges will have some flexibility to house students facing hardship but goal is to limit large gatherings of students

ALBANY — All SUNY campuses are moving to a “distance-learning model” on March 19 that will last the remainder of the spring semester, a dramatic move Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday amid concerns of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Private colleges Wednesday also continued to cancel classes and move lessons online.

Each SUNY campus — including SUNY Schenectady, Fulton-Montgomery Community College, SUNY Cobelskill and the University at Albany — will have some leeway to accommodate students with hardships in campus dorms or carry out programs that require at least some lab-based learning, but the campuses will effectively go into partial shutdown on March 19 in a bid to thwart the spreading virus.

“The goal is to reduce the congregation of multiple students,” Beth Garvey, a top state official, said during an afternoon press conference alongside Cuomo.

Garvey said individual campuses are working on plans to handle the transition to distance learning and said students unable to find another place to go other than campus will be granted accommodations to stay on campus. 

State officials said SUNY leadership was still discussing the impact on graduation ceremonies later this spring but noted that the measures to slow the virus would likely affect those events as well.

Cuomo also announced plans to contract with private labs throughout the state to ramp up testing for the virus and cautioned that the number of infected individuals will continue to grow in the coming days. 

“These numbers will continue to go up dramatically,” he said. 

In a message sent to UAlbany faculty and staff, President Havidán Rodríguez said the college would deliver all of its courses remotely beginning March 23. He said students were encouraged to bring home all academic materials as they leave for next week’s spring break.

“We recognize that this decision will have a significant impact on every member of our community, but I want to assure you that we are working extremely hard to make this transition as smooth as possible,” he said.

A slate of private colleges have also moved in recent days to suspend classes, extend spring breaks or move classes online, including at RPI and Skidmore. Siena College on Wednesday extended its spring break an extra week, leaving students out of school through at least March 20, one of the latest coronavirus-related closures in the region.

The College of Saint Rose later in the day Wednesday announced it planned to move even faster, canceling Thursday and Friday classes and moving classes online through at least March 27. In a message to the school community, the college said canceling classes for the remainder of the week would give faculty time to prepare to transition courses online.

Saint Rose students were asked to move all their belongings and check out of residence halls by Sunday at noon. All campus events were also canceled for the rest of March.

Siena students are currently on spring break and the college said no students, staff or faculty have reported symptoms of the virus, but the college is joining the ranks of most private colleges in the area and many others around the country in extending breaks or suspending in-person classes. 

The college asked students to remain away from campus, but said offices will remain open and some students will have access to campus as needed. The college said its current plan is to reopen campus March 22 with classes resuming March 23.

“We took this initiative because New York is one of the most highly impacted states in this ongoing health crisis, and because this virus is spreading so rapidly and the full extent of its severity remains unknown,” Margaret Madden, the college’s interim president, said in a statement.

The college has also limited gatherings on campuses to fewer than 50 people, barred spectators from attending home sporting events and are canceling all public events planned on campus through March 29.

In a message to the Siena campus community, the college also suggested it was taking steps to prepare for a campus closure that may have to extend past the extra week of break and force classes online. 

Also: SUNY schools to move to online learning March 19 amid coronavirus threat

“Faculty, in the meantime, are formulating contingency plans that will allow the college to move all courses online should circumstances warrant,” according to a message the college sent to students.

Siena is only the latest college to make such a decision. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Tuesday announced its plans to suspend all in-person instruction from March 16 through at least March 30. Skidmore College suspended classes and the return of students to campus through at least March 22.

Phil Wajda, a spokesperson for Union College, on Wednesday said the college planned to finish out its winter term, which ends with finals next week, but was still finalizing decisions about plans for the spring term, which is scheduled to begin March 30. He said a decision about plans for the start of spring term would be announced by Thursday. 

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County

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