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Florida’s state universities to move classes online, citing coronavirus

The Board of Governors called on schools to offer remote, online teaching while keeping campuses open.

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Florida higher education leaders on Wednesday directed all state universities to move classes online as soon as possible, citing the spread of coronavirus.

The Board of Governors for the State University System called for schools to offer remote, online teaching while keeping campuses open and operations normal for students who don’t have the option to relocate. Dorms, dining halls and health centers will remain available to students, said system spokeswoman Renee Fargason.

“The health and safety of students within the State University System is our top priority,” officials said in a statement. “As we have continued to monitor the spread of the COVID-19 virus it has become clear that to protect the students and the residents of our state, proactive rather than reactive guidance to universities is necessary.”

Officials at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida, Florida State University and Florida International University confirmed Wednesday that they are following the state’s directive to move all classes online.

The order, affecting tens of thousands of students, does not apply to community colleges or private institutions.

Officials at the University of Tampa, a private school, said they would move all classes to online platforms on Monday. Eckerd College announced Thursday that it will move classes online starting March 30. Fort Lauderdale-based Nova Southeastern University, with a campus in Clearwater, announced suspension of classes starting Friday.

St. Petersburg College and Pasco-Hernando State College each said they do not intend to move classes online but are prepared to do so if necessary.

State officials also said state universities with approaching spring breaks should tell their students not to come back for at least two weeks after the holiday. Schools that have already had spring breaks are working with the state to determine when students should return to those campuses.

Universities are instructed to continue to provide “essential services,” like dining, counseling, health care and access to libraries, possibly on a limited basis or remotely, the statement said. Schools are also asked to help students find alternative housing, if needed.

Most colleges and universities had been preparing for remote teaching since the coronavirus began to circulate worldwide, Fargason said. “But it’s come up a little quicker than we all anticipated.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis called remote instruction a “prudent step” during a news conference Wednesday afternoon. He said the change will be “minimally disruptive to the way the state operates."

University of Florida president Kent Fuchs took a different tone in a letter to students Wednesday, labeling the switch to all-online courses “unsettling and disruptive." He urged “optimism and determination" for what is sure to be a complicated shift.

Here’s a look at how some schools are responding to the outbreak:

University of South Florida:

  • All classes will be online March 23 through April 5, a two-week period following the university’s spring break, according to a statement sent to students Wednesday afternoon. Professors were asked March 9 to “take deliberate steps in preparing for remote instructional delivery” of classes.
  • USF canceled six study abroad trips planned for spring break on March 3, following guidance from state and federal health officials. Students traveling for spring break are asked not to return to campus until April 5.
  • All university-sponsored events scheduled in the next month, both on and off campus, will be postponed or canceled, according to the statement sent to students. More information about athletic events is forthcoming.
  • About a dozen faculty and staff who have recently traveled abroad have been asked to quarantine, according Donna Petersen, senior associate vice president of USF Health.
  • Dorms and other campus facilities will remain open, said provost Ralph Wilcox, but students will be “discouraged from getting together in large groups.”
  • Updates on the USF’s response to coronavirus can be found here.

University of Florida:

  • UF will move all classes online starting Monday and remain online until at least March 30, according to a letter President Fuchs sent to students Wednesday. Professors and students were notified March 9 that classes should be moved online as possible.
  • Study abroad programs in China, Italy, Japan and South Korea for spring and summer are canceled, according to the UF website.
  • UF officials are encouraging organizers of large meetings and events to postpone, cancel or hold them online. Information on sports and fine arts events will be released soon, Fuchs wrote.
  • Custodial staff are disinfecting bathrooms daily and doing deeper cleanings in common areas and lobbies.
  • Updates on the school’s response to coronavirus can be found here.

Florida State University:

  • FSU will move all classes online March 23, when students return from spring break, which runs March 16-20.
  • Residence halls will close at noon on March 14 to visitors and students leaving campus for spring break, however students have the option to stay.
  • Students who work on-campus jobs will work them as available. Those who cannot work may extend their work hours upon return to normal university operations, according to spokesman Bill Wellock.
  • The university is instructing groups to reschedule any visits by people from out of state or abroad planned between March 30 and April 6.
  • No students have been quarantined.
  • The latest information on FSU’s response to coronavirus can be found here.

University of Central Florida:

  • UCF will begin remote instruction starting March 16, according to a UCF news release. All classes will be ready for online instruction by next week. Online classes will follow the 2-week protocol set by the state. Employees are expected to continue working and will have access to campus, which is open.
  • No faculty, students or staff have been quarantined.
  • All faculty-led study abroad trips, international exchange programs and partner study abroad programs have been canceled for the spring and summer semester
  • Updates on UCF’s response to coronavirus can be found here.

University of Tampa

  • Will move from face-to-face instruction to online delivery, effective March 16. “We are taking this action to protect not only our campus community but the larger community as well,” the school said in a statement.
  • While students are encouraged to stay away from campus, residence halls will remain open for those who need them. Residence hall guests are discouraged.
  • Campus services will remain open and operational with limited or reduced services for students, such as dining, library and health services.
  • Normal campus activity will return “as soon as conditions permit."
  • No reported or confirmed cases on campus.
  • Visit here for updates.

Florida International University

  • Classes will be online starting Thursday, continuing through April 4, although the date could change. The university urges students and faculty to be alert for notices.
  • Students, including on-campus residents, are encouraged to go home. However, those who need to remain on campus will be allowed to stay during this period.
  • FIU will remain “fully operational,” with faculty, staff and academic advisers reporting to work. Facilities like libraries, recreation buildings and dining halls will remain open.
  • Updates can be found here.

St. Leo University

  • Classes will move online March 23 for students who attend the main, residential campus in Pasco County. Other St. Leo sites in Tampa, Lakeland, New Port Richey, Spring Hill and Brooksville will begin online classes March 16.
  • Students on the main campus are on spring break this week and have been instructed not to return. All classes for those students are suspended March 16-20, giving time for faculty to prepare to transition to online.
  • All large group events are canceled. Sports activities are suspended indefinitely. No fans are permitted at Acrobatics and Tumbling home events. Non-essential travel is prohibited.
  • Housing will be provided to student-athletes and others who are unable to leave campus on a limited basis.

Eckerd College:

  • Students living on campus must be out of their dorms by Wednesday.
  • Spring break, originally planned for next week, will now stretch until March 29.
  • Classes will be online starting March 30. Eckerd faculty will use various platforms to deliver instruction online, while striving to “maintain the close faculty-student interaction that is a hallmark of an Eckerd education," an announcement said.
  • Eckerd will monitor developments on the spread of coronavirus and release an update March 30.
  • All college events, including sporting events, are canceled until further notice. However, academic and career advising, counseling and other student services will be available remotely.
  • Visit Eckerd’s website for more information.

Nova Southeastern:

  • All classes at all locations are suspended through March 20. Online classes will begin March 23 and run through at least April 17.
  • All campuses will remain open and all employees and staff will continue to work normal schedules.
  • Students living on Nova Southeastern campuses are “strongly encouraged” to leave residence halls until face-to-face instruction resumes on April 17.
  • All sports events are suspended indefinitely, based on direction from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
  • All events and gatherings of more than 50 people at all university locations are canceled until at least April 17.
  • More information can be found here.

Staff writer Divya Kumar contributed to this report.

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