coronavirus concerns

UVM Moves to Online Learning to Cut Risk of Coronavirus

The university joins a growing list of schools changing teaching styles to reduce human contact

NBC Universal, Inc.

Some of Vermont's best-known colleges have taken steps to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus, by minimizing human contact and moving to online learning.

The University of Vermont announced Wednesday it is encouraging students not to return to campus after this week's spring break.

"Keeping myself safe," said UVM student Jamie Kalajian, who is now home in Massachusetts for the school's break. "They just told us to bring all our homework home for break, in case we had to stay home, so that's what I did."

As of Wednesday evening, Vermont has just two cases of coronavirus — one in Bennington County and another in Chittenden County. The state and individual communities do not want to see that number grow.

That's why UVM said it's encouraging students like Kalajian to stay off campus — to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.

"What went into the decision-making was the safety and well-being of our faculty, staff and students," said Gary Derr, UVM's vice president for operations and public safety. "With that as the grounds for the decision, while it was a hard decision because it was a very complex decision, we knew it was the right decision to make for our community."

The campus will remain operational, Derr noted, adding that certain students will be allowed to stay — such as those from overseas.

Classes will be canceled Monday and Tuesday of next week, the university announced, then will switch to online learning next Wednesday.

"I'm very confident in our faculty to be able to move to remote instruction and give our students a quality education," said Annie Stevens, UVM's vice provost for student affairs. "There's no doubt in my mind."

UVM joined a growing list of schools making such a move to reduce possible spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease the new virus causes.

Vermont's Middlebury College announced Tuesday it'll have an extended spring break starting Friday, before going to remote learning.

Wednesday, Champlain College said spring break would be extended by a week, with classes resuming online on March 23.

Also on Wednesday, the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which Middlebury is a part of, announced its spring season is now off.

"Honestly, it's all in the name of us being a little bit safer," said Daniel Golstein, an exchange student at Middlebury. "It's necessary. It sucks, but it's necessary for now."

Middlebury said in a written statement that it is planning to re-evaluate its coronavirus stance in April.

UVM administrators told reporters Wednesday that they will continually assess the best ways to keep disease at bay, adding that it is way too early to know if graduation will be affected.

A big basketball game is scheduled for Saturday on the UVM campus, which the Hoop Cats need to win in order to get into the NCAA basketball tournament.

The NCAA announced Wednesday that the tournament would not be open to the general public. Derr and Stevens said as of Wednesday afternoon, fans will be allowed to attend Saturday's game at Patrick Gymnasium.

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