Local colleges switching to online courses, asking students to stay home due to outbreak

Updated at 3:03 p.m.

WHEATON COLLEGE in Norton is both switching its curricula to online in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and asking students to leave campus by March 22 until further notice. / COURTESY WHEATON COLLEGE
WHEATON COLLEGE in Norton is both switching its curricula to online in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and asking students to leave campus by March 22 until further notice. / COURTESY WHEATON COLLEGE

PROVIDENCE – Local colleges continue to alter their respective schedules and programming in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, including extending spring break, asking students to leave campus and conducting courses online.

The changes in policies come as the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis around the globe a pandemic Wednesday.

Norton-based Wheaton College announced Wednesday it will extend spring break through March 22, with classes being canceled during that period and courses will be administered online for the remainder of the semester once classes resume March 23.

Wheaton is also asking all students living on campus to leave by 5 p.m. March 22 and “not return to campus until further notice.” The college will conduct “deep cleaning” of all areas after the March 22 move-out.

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Students who are currently away from campus should only return to Wheaton to retrieve their belongings, and must do so by March 22, Wheaton said. The college said students will not be allowed in the residence halls after March 22 and must contact the college’s residence life department to arrange pick-up times to gather their belongings before the semester ends May 9.

Wheaton students who have no other housing options because of life or travel restrictions have to submit a housing petition to Wheaton by March 18 at 1 p.m., the college said. Wheaton said only “extenuating circumstances” will be approved and, if approved, students will be limited to just housing and dining on campus.

“It is difficult to have to take these measures,” Wheaton College President Dennis M. Hanno said in a letter to the campus community. “We know these decisions pose real and significant challenges for us and we will work with each of you to best move forward and ensure academic continuity.”

Wheaton has also suspended until further notice all college-sponsored travel and events, both on campus and off.

The University of Rhode Island said Wednesday that spring break will be extended through March 20. Once classes reconvene March 23, URI said curricula will be conducted online and all face-to-face instruction is suspended through “at least” April 3.

URI will also cancel or postpone all events with 100 or more people expected to attend, including events organized by outside vendors that are held on campus, the university said. Also, beginning Wednesday, URI said both intercollegiate and non-intercollegiate sporting events will still be held on campus as scheduled, but no fans are allowed to attend – only players, coaches and essential staff will be authorized to be at the events.

URI also said residence halls will remain open, but the university is advising students to delay their return to campus through April 3.

University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan announced Wednesday that all five campuses, including University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, will shift to online instruction starting March 23 through at least April 3, and “most” students will not be on campus during that time.

“We regret the disruption that this will cause, but are confident that all parties will agree that the well-being of those who live, work and learn on our campuses comes first,” Meehan said in a statement.

Meehan said UMass officials, along with state and federal health experts, will continue to assess the situation and determine best action as the month unfolds.

Roger Williams University said late Tuesday that it has also extended its spring break until March 23 and will transition its academic plans to online “for as long as necessary” this semester. The university is also advising students to not return to campus, and residence halls and dining halls will be closed for the foreseeable future.

Students will also be given times by Roger Williams University to go into residence halls to retrieve necessary belongings and “specific information” for international students, spring student athletes and student teachers, the university said.

Salve Regina University said Wednesday that it is asking students to plan for “the possibility” of switching to taking courses online after spring break. The university will decide on the matter on March 18.

Brown University announced Wednesday in a letter to the campus community that the test results of all three students under quarantine came back negative. The students will remain in isolation “for the coming days,” Brown said, but the news is positive for “these students and for the health of the entire Brown community.”

Brown said students or others “may be isolated and tested” going forward and the campus will be informed of “any positive test result.”

(Added in grafs 9-12 information on URI.)

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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