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Some universities suspend face-to-face classes following spring break

Several area universities are pausing face-to-face instruction in order to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

MINNEAPOLIS — Several Midwest universities, including the University of Minnesota, UW-Madison, University of St. Thomas and Mitchell Hamline School of Law, are suspending in-person classes in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19.

U of M SUSPENDS

The University of Minnesota system is suspending face-to-face instruction at its five campuses out of concern for students and potential exposure to the coronavirus. 

President Joan Gabel made the announcement Wednesday, saying the health, safety, and well-being of the U of M community remains the system's top priority. As a result, in-person instruction, including field experiences and clinicals, is being suspended at the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, Crookston and Morris campuses. Students and staff will move to online, or alternative, instruction. 

Here are the details:

  • Spring break will be extended on the Duluth, Rochester and Twin Cities campuses until Wednesday, March 18. Students will have classes through online or alternative instruction on March 18. 
  • At the Crookston and Morris campuses, face-to-face instruction will continue through Friday, March 13. Students and staff will be on spring break from March 16 through March 20. After that time, online or alternative instruction will begin. 
  • Students on all five campuses will use virtual instruction at least through Wednesday, April 1. 
  • The instruction changes and the coronavirus situation will be evaluated on an ongoing basis, and students and staff will be alerted at the earliest possible date whether online and alternative methods will be extended. 
  • For classes that cannot be taught online, instructors will contact students with further information. 

The administration is encouraging students with the ability to stay home and continue classes online to do so. However, the U of M recognizes that for some students the safest, most secure place will be on campus. At this time, residence halls, dining services, and other student services will continue. Those who do return to campus are urged to follow CDC and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines on hygiene and prevention. 

"Due to COVID-19, we find ourselves responding to unique challenges that require innovative solutions," President Gabel writes. "I recognize that our responsive actions, including those I’m announcing today, may raise questions for many of you. While we do not have all of the answers at this moment, please know that we are working around the clock to find answers and solutions."

Officials at the University of St. Thomas say as of right now they are taking steps to prepare for the possibility of moving to online classes.

Other universities such as St. Cloud State  and St. Catherine are following that approach.

"We're telling our students that we are keeping them consistently updated," said Andrew Melendres at St. Catherine University. "If we get different information that says we have more confirmed cases in a more localized area that would provide a greater threat or risk then we may make those decisions at that time."

UW-MADISON

Across the border, officials at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are also announcing plans to suspend face-to-face instruction following spring break.

Classes were scheduled to resume on Monday, March 23 after the scheduled break. Instead, the university says "alternative delivery of classes" will begin that day and continue through at least Friday, April 10.

The university will make a decision on whether to resume in-person classes in early April.

"The health of our community is our most important priority," Chancellor Rebecca Blank said in a statement posted to the UW-Madison website. "While there are relatively few confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dane County, the number of cases nationally continues to grow. Our health partners tell us that now is the best time to act in ways that slow the spread."

RELATED: Facts not fear: What the Midwest should know about coronavirus

Students are also being asked not to return to undergraduate residence halls after spring break if possible; however, the residence halls will remain available to students where necessary.

"We hope that students will return to their permanent residence and complete their coursework remotely," Chancellor Blank's statement said. "We recognize that some students may be unable to return to their permanent residence for various reasons and will need to stay in their residence halls. For instance, some international students will not be able to return home at this time; some students may be unable to access online classes in their home location; some may need to stay in Madison for other reasons."

The university said students who remain on campus should expect a "reduced campus experience" with limited services.

The UW-Madison campus will remain open, and faculty and staff are being advised to maintain regular work schedules.

University-sponsored travel is canceled through April 10. The school is also advising students to reconsider non-essential personal travel, and to be aware that campus community members who do travel may be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.

RELATED: Wisconsin officials caution against travel due to COVID-19

Campus events of more than 50 people are also being canceled through April 10, with a few exceptions.

The university's message concludes with a request for the UW-Madison campus community to have respect for one another.

"We have heard of instances of slurs and profiling directed toward individuals wearing masks or those of Asian descent. Some students have told us that they feel self-conscious coughing in public, they encounter racist comments and jokes, or they experience social distancing on public transportation, in classes, and in groups," Chancellor Blank said in her statement. "Racist behaviors or stereotyping in or outside of the classroom are not acceptable at UW–Madison."

MITCHELL HAMLINE SCHOOL OF LAW

Mitchell Hamline School of Law announced Thursday, March 12, that it is suspending in-person classes through April 3.

There are no known cases of coronavirus at Mitchell Hamline, according to a news release from the school, but they are "taking steps to mitigate the effects of the disease" on campus.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation and will make decisions for April and later as more information becomes available," the release said.

The school announced the following details:

  • The current spring break for on-campus students is extended two days. No classes Monday, March 16, or Tuesday, March 17.
  • Classes resume Wednesday, March 18 remotely (online) through April 3.
  • Students in the blended-learning program already study remotely but travel to campus periodically for multi-day sessions. Those on-campus sessions through April 3 will be conducted online to the extent practical.

The building will be open for students to use the library or other facilities, with the exception of students who have recently traveled to an area with widespread coronavirus outbreaks, or who are showing signs of illness. Those students are asked to stay home for 14 days and monitor their health.

UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS

The University of St. Thomas is moving all classes online starting Monday, March 16. In a news release Thursday, March 12, the university said it will not hold classes in person until April 14 at the earliest. That is students' first day back from their Easter holiday.

The Dean of Students Office will help any students who do not have laptops or internet access.

"Please be aware there are no confirmed cases within our St. Thomas community, and the information we have received to date from health officials indicates the risk to our community is low," the news release reads. "We know from watching events unfold in other countries and regions, however, that this illness can spread rapidly. We also know that social distancing – limiting gatherings of people – can help to slow the spread of COVID-19."

St. Thomas says that:

  • Residence halls and dining halls will remain open
  • The university is doing additional cleaning and disinfecting on campus
  • Faculty and staff will still be expected to come to work
  • All on-campus events that involve gathering 50 or more people will be canceled starting Monday
  • Effective immediately, any university-related travel must be approved by vice presidents

Additional information for students about shifting to online classes is available at OneStThomas.

MINNESOTA STATE SYSTEMS

University officials said they will be extending spring break for students and transition to "alternative modes" of teaching when classes resume.

According to a release, the schools that are currently on spring break are suspending classes March 16 to March 22 with classes resuming March 23. The schools that are on spring break during the week of March 16 to 20 are suspending classes March 23 to March 29 with classes resuming March 30.

The release went on to say that all administrators, faculty and still will report to work as usual so that they can come up with a plan to teach classes using a "alternative modes."

“We are continuously reviewing a range of strategies to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on our campuses and the communities in which we live and serve,” said Devinder Malhotra, chancellor of Minnesota State. “I am committed to taking all steps necessary to protect the health and safety of our students, our faculty, and our staff. I am also tremendously grateful to all of the faculty and staff for the sacrifices they have had to make, as well as for their hard work addressing this challenging and dynamic situation. Our goal is to accommodate students and help them continue their education despite interruptions caused by COVID-19.”

All campuses, including residence halls, dining halls and student support services will remain open.

All gatherings and events with more than 100 attendees will be canceled until May 1, and all out-of-state Minnesota State-related travel for faculty and staff, effective Monday, March 16.

International travel related to Minnesota State, including study abroad programs and any other activities involving faculty, staff and student had previously been suspended.

ST. OLAF COLLEGE

St. Olaf College is extending spring break by one week, according to school officials. The school said spring break will start March 21 and classes will resume on April 6.

For additional information about the Minnesota State response to the COVID-19 is available at https://minnstate.edu/coronavirus/.