BREAKING: UVM switches to online classes amidst coronavirus outbreak

A+man+and+woman+don+masks+at+the+Bernie+Sanders+Rally+March+3%2C+in+Essex+Junction.+Concerns+about+the+Coronavirus+have+influenced+many+peoples%27+conduct+in+the+recent+weeks%2C+including+the+use+of+protective+masks.+

Baliey Samber/ Vermont Cynic

A man and woman don masks at the Bernie Sanders Rally March 3, in Essex Junction. Concerns about the Coronavirus have influenced many peoples' conduct in the recent weeks, including the use of protective masks.

Alek Fleury, Managing Editor

UVM is cancelling all classes  March 16 and 17 and will switch to remote learning methods for regularly scheduled classes starting March 18 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to a 1:24 p.m. March 11 email from UVM President Suresh Garimella.

Gary Derr, vice president for operations and public safety, said he is unsure of how long he expects this to go on for.

“We don’t really have a time frame because we don’t know what is going to happen with the spread of the virus,” Derr said. “I think there is an unknown end to it, but we did not put in a two-week window like other universities have. We just said until further notice, and we will assess it as we go.”

Derr said the catalyst for the decision was the safety and well-being of the entire UVM community.

“That’s what’s been driving all our planning efforts and our decision making efforts,” Derr said.

The timing of the decision had a lot to do with spring break, Derr said.

“We were looking at spring break and recognizing that it presented an opportunity for us to implement the strategy beginning next Wednesday to afford students who are home or might be returning to home to actually stay home and not return to campus unless they needed to,” Derr said.

Residential undergraduate students are encouraged to not return to residence halls after spring break unless they need to live on campus, according to the email.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens said if a student does need to return to campus they should let UVM’s Department of Residential life know what their intentions are so they can keep track of the health and safety of students returning.

“We will program the CATcard IDs for only those who needs to stay in the halls,” Stevens said.

As far as food, Stevens says they will be providing options for students returning to residence halls.

“We will certainly have services available to those that have to be here,” Stevens said. “Three residential dining halls as well as three retail locations will be open to them.”

In terms of the exact structure of the remote classes, Derr said that will be left up to the faculty.

“There is no one way we are going to do it, but it is really up to the faculty members,” Derr said.

A memo sent to faculty March 3 from Provost Patricia Prelock laid out some possibilities for how faculty should begin planning for remote classes.

These include posting additional material and assignments on Blackboard, reconfiguring the timing of readings and assignments, developing new assignments using existing external web based materials and making use of Microsoft Teams for virtual interactions such as meetings, video calls and file sharing.

“There is no single alternative instructional approach that will work in all cases,” the memo stated. “Please bring your creativity, ingenuity and the full use of the technology to bear on this challenge so we can provide our students with the best educational experience possible in the midst of what may be difficult circumstances.”

Derr said each class will have a unique transition to remote learning.

“I think the transition is going to be unique to each class, and we have not heard any push back or problems,” Derr said.

Starting March 18, the University will remain open and employees will be expected to report to work. However, events and gatherings will be limited to 25 attendees or fewer.

“While these changes are significant, I want to emphasize the importance of keeping our University open, and continuing our support of critically important services and activities, such as our student support, administrative functions and research endeavors,” the email stated.

Regular policy updates will be provided on the COVID-19 website. Questions can be sent to [email protected] and a COVID-19 information helpline (802-656-HELP) will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, the email stated.