Washington State University announced Wednesday that it would be moving all classes, including those at the Vancouver campus, online after spring break due to ongoing concerns about the new coronavirus.
The move follows a similar announcement at Seattle-area universities, and some Clark College professors are also opting to move their classes online to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. And while the public school system, for now, is operating normally, district officials are on guard for the virus’s impact on classrooms.
“Flexibility is going to be key on this,” Clark College spokeswoman Kelly Love said.
Clark County Public Health has confirmed a single positive case of COVID-19; as of Wednesday afternoon, results from 17 tests were pending.
Washington State University Vancouver
Effective March 23, all face-to-face classes, testing and advising at WSU Vancouver will be conducted online only. The move will likely last until the semester ends in May, university spokesman Phil Weiler said.
The weeklong spring break begins Monday.
According to WSU’s website, training has been underway since March 5 to help faculty prepare in case classes moved online.
“We have a whole team of people whose job it is to train faculty members to convert their face-to-face curriculum to an online format in a relatively smooth transition,” Weiler said.
At WSU Vancouver, the library and computer labs will remain open, according to an announcement from Chancellor Mel Netzhammer. The campus is also working to provide loaner laptops to students who may need them.
In Pullman, residence and dining halls will remain open. Weiler said there are international and homeless students living in dormitories that don’t readily have somewhere else to go.
“It’s important for us to be able to keep those facilities up and running,” he said.
Weiler did not immediately have information on how many Vancouver-area students live on the Pullman campus.
About 31,600 students attend WSU, 3,585 of whom are enrolled at the Vancouver campus. The decision affects all five of WSU’s campuses, including Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. WSU’s Everett campus has already moved its classes online.
The University of Washington and other Seattle universities announced Friday that they would move classes online until at least the end of the winter quarter.
While Clark College has not canceled its classes, Love said that many teachers are deciding to move coursework online before the winter quarter ends March 19. All facilities are open, however, and decisions to adjust coursework are up to individual instructors.
The college is, however, looking ahead to spring quarter, which begins April 6. Love said that the college could explore some kind of hybrid option, offering some classes online and others that require a hands-on component on campus.
The college has also canceled two upcoming study abroad trips, to Japan and China, and is discussing whether to cancel additional trips this year.
Love also said that anxiety over the coronavirus is creating challenges on campus. Students recently grew concerned after emergency services responded to a student having an unrelated medical emergency, believing him to have the coronavirus. Two instructors in the baking program recently grew ill with cold-like symptoms, which meant classes in that program were limited; Love said some began to worry after noticing the bakery case in the cafeteria was emptier than usual.
“It’s such a highly visible thing,” Love said.
In the meantime, college officials are meeting regularly and consulting with Clark County Public Health as it moves forward.
While the spread of the coronavirus in the Puget Sound area prompted some school districts to pre-emptively close their doors, including Seattle Public Schools, area districts are hesitant to do so. The Northshore School District in Bothell elected to move all classes online for up to two weeks, but the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction warned that districts shouldn’t do so unless they can ensure that all students can access classes.
Battle Ground Public Schools spokeswoman Rita Sanders said many students in the district live in rural parts of the county and don’t have reliable internet at home.
“If you can’t equitably provide distance learning to all your students, you shouldn’t be doing it,” Sanders said. “We looked at that and we can’t equitably provide it to our district.”
Schools are also beginning to cancel field trips to the Puget Sound area after Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday announced the cancellation of all events of 250 or more people in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
Some Clark County districts also have significantly higher rates of students received free- or reduced-price meals than those Puget Sound schools, adding extra pressure on districts looking to close schools. In Vancouver Public Schools, for example, 50.7 percent of students were identified as low-income at the beginning of the school year, according to OSPI. In the Northshore School District, 14.4 percent of students are from low-income families.
Schools could still offer meals if campuses are closed with guidance from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
School districts advise parents of children with respiratory illnesses to keep their children at home until 72 hours after their fevers have broken without the help of medication.