Breaking: UMass to suspend in-person classes, implement remote classes after spring break

The situation will be reassessed and another announcement will be made by April 1

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

In an email to students on March 11, University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy informed students and community members that the Amherst campus, along with the other four campuses in the UMass system, will move to online instruction after the spring break.

Starting on Monday, March 23 and continuing through Friday, April 3, classes will be taught remotely using web, video and teleconferencing tools. The University will reassess and notify students by April 1 to determine whether remote learning will remain in place beyond April 6.

There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at UMass Amherst. According to the email, the steps are a “precautionary measure.”

“Upon extensive consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, we have determined that by reducing population density on campus we will enable the social distancing that will mitigate the spread of the virus,” Subbaswamy stated.

In a memo to the Board of Trustees, UMass President Marty Meehan stated the decision was made based on guidance from state and federal health officials and UMass infectious disease experts.

Meehan stated that “given the uncertainties and risks of the moment,” the decision was made by all five chancellors in consultation with the chairman of the Board of Trustee in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. The transition will affect 75,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff on all five UMass campuses: Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and the medical school in Worcester.

“It is now clear that moving our students from face-to-face learning to a remote model must be part of our contribution to the mitigation effort,” Meehan wrote in the memo.

For students in laboratory, studio and capstone courses where face-to-face instruction is “essential,” the University plans to notify them after the spring break if they should return to the campus.

Sophomore dance and public health double major Camrie Baams expressed worries about having to come back to campus after a week of spring break to participate in dance studio classes.

“We’re all so close to each other, touching the same things. I don’t think it’s safe to come back after a week,” she said.

“I honestly think it’s going to get worse,” said Kiersten Yusi, a dance major. “If you wait a week, that’s not even letting the [two-week] incubation period go through.”

Both dancers expressed concerns about the lack of information coming from the University, such as plans about how the school would operate for students who could potentially come back after spring break.

“Is the gym going to be open? What dining halls are going to be open? Are our daily lives going to be affected?” said Yusi.

Senior Maria Girardin, who majors in Linguistics and Communications Disorders, said she was concerned about her work for her thesis and whether she would be able to complete the work.

“All other students should remain away from campus until further notice and should pack accordingly,” Subbaswamy stated. “Exceptions will be made for students in special circumstances.”

According to the email, additional steps the campus will take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, including restricting foreign and domestic travel of students and employees, holding conferences and gatherings virtually or cancelling them and discouraging sick employees from coming to work. Internal business, including but not limited to mandated board meetings, will continue.

Students are being advised to bring home their belongings when they leave for spring break on Friday, March 13, according to the letter. The University is still exploring ways to accommodate students who will be affected by the closure of campus: “each campus is examining strategies to accommodate students with certain needs such as WiFi access, housing, etc,” according to the memo from Meehan. UMass campuses and satellite sites will remain open.

According to the letter, UMass medical students will begin remote learning immediately, beginning tomorrow, Thursday, March 12.

As of this time, there have been no confirmed or presumptive cases in Hampshire County. There was one case confirmed at UMass Boston, which is the only known case within the UMass system. “This individual is recovering well and has been isolated since the incident,” according to the letter.

The Boston Globe broke the story at 11:35 a.m. that UMass would be moving to online classes and students would be asked to leave campus following spring break, “according to sources close to the administration.”

Risa Kim, a senior finance major, said she felt “cheated” when she read the Globe article and felt that students should have been informed directly. Although she lives in Massachusetts and has a way to go home after the break, Kim expressed concern for other students who may not have those resources.

The announcement comes after Amherst College, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College’s decision to cancel in-person classes and continue the semester digitally. Several other prominent Massachusetts universities have canceled in-person classes, such as Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and Emerson College.

“Without question, this is a public-health moment the likes of which few of us have ever seen,” read the letter.

Isabelle Stairman, a psychology junior, said she felt confused after reading the email and that her parents were confused too, and hoped that more information would be released soon: “I feel like they’re not giving any information.”

Kim, who lives on campus as a peer mentor, said she was waiting for news about her duties and how this would affect her work for the semester.

Girardin, who is a member of a dance team, said she was “really sad” to learn about the news and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to perform again in her final semester.

“We’ve been working on our dances all semester,” she added.

“I fully understand that the transition to remote learning is a massive disruption for our students and faculty and may be uniquely challenging for many members of our community,” Subbaswamy wrote. “I want to assure you that the campus is committed to doing everything possible to help our students, particularly those with the greatest need, meet these challenges and to support our faculty and staff in this difficult period.”

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

The Collegian Staff can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @CollegianNews.