Private colleges turn to remote learning, but FL public universities won’t go virtual despite COVID

In Florida, the private University of Miami announced last week that it will switch to remote learning for the first two weeks of the spring semester, in light of rising COVID-19 cases.

Elsewhere, several private colleges and universities such as Harvard, Howard, Stanford, Syracuse and Northwestern plan to resume classes in a virtual setting for at least part of the spring semester, according to a report from NBC News.

But so far, none of Florida’s public universities are making that transition in the spring 2022 academic semester, despite concerns from faculty union leaders that officials aren’t making the right decisions to protect communities from campuses throughout Florida.

“We are very disappointed with the overall response to COVID at institutions of higher education,” said Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida.

Gothard disagrees with the Florida State University System’s decision to open the spring semester with in-person classes. He said in a phone interview with the Phoenix that university officials should “listen to medical experts” to make decisions to protect students, faculty and staff, such as the use of educational opportunities. distance learning.

“We don’t think politics should be involved in local security decisions,” Gothard said.

That said, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference Monday that Florida public schools as well as public universities in the state should remain open for in-person instruction.

“Our schools will be open in the state of Florida,” DeSantis told reporters, adding, “I would say the same with our state universities as well. … Our universities are going to be open, our state universities. They’re going to have in-person instruction, and I think any university that doesn’t should refund 100% of the tuition to the parents.

Amid soaring COVID-19 cases and the highly transmissible variant of omicron that continues to sweep the country, leaders in Florida’s public university system say they are taking precautions.

Renee Fargason, spokesperson for the State University System of Florida, confirmed in an email to Florida Phoenix on Monday that “none of our universities will be moving away” in the upcoming spring 2022 semester.

In fact, the system plans to “continue to offer a full range of college courses and degree programs,” according to a letter written by Syd Kitson, chairman of the Florida Board of Governors, and Chancellor Marshall Criser III.

The letter was sent last week to students, faculty and staff at Florida’s 12 public universities, to address safety concerns about spring plans to tackle the outbreak, Fargason said.

The letter stated, “It is clear that the pandemic is not over, and as we prepare for the spring semester, we must also remain vigilant and follow policies and protocols that have been shown to limit the impacts of the virus. The best way to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our campuses and communities is to protect yourself, your family and your friends every day by following recommended precautions, including wearing masks, testing if necessary and full vaccination, including a booster, if you are able.

At Florida State University in Tallahassee, President Richard McCullough sent a message to the campus community last week, providing details on safety procedures for the upcoming semester, according to spokeswoman Amy Farnum-Patronis.

“Medical-grade face masks, such as N95 or KN95 masks, will be expected on campus,” the FSU president said. “Cloth masks are less effective against highly transmissible variants such as Delta and Omicron.”

On Monday, FSU residence halls were reopening and classes for the spring semester 2022 will begin on Wednesday of this week.

In the post, McCullough said:

“All students, regardless of vaccination status, are strongly encouraged to get tested before traveling/returning to campus. Students must complete a COVID-19 test 48-72 hours before traveling/returning to campus. Students who test positive for COVID-19 should not travel/return to campus while infectious and immediately notify their instructors that their first day attendance will be delayed. Instructors will accommodate delays in attendance.

Additionally, “COVID-19 vaccination and boosters will continue to be offered and available during the spring semester to all interested students, faculty, and staff and their eligible dependent children. We encourage everyone to procure the COVID-19 vaccine/booster to help mitigate the spread of the virus Spring vaccination clinic dates will be posted on when available.

At the University of Florida Gainesville, spokesperson Steve Orlando told the Phoenix that in-person classes will resume when students return this week, despite rising COVID-19 cases.

“We do not have distance learning scheduled for the spring semester,” Orlando said in an email Monday at the Phoenix.

The University of South Florida in Tampa will also begin offering in-person classes next week, according to spokesperson Kevin Watler.

“USF’s spring semester begins Monday, January 10, and we continue to schedule in-person classes,” Watler said. “Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to get vaccinated and immunized, to stay home if they feel unwell, and to get tested if they have symptoms of COVID-19. “

Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, sent a letter Friday to the campus community, encouraging students to adhere to safety practices, such as wearing a mask, regular testing and vaccinations.

The university operates an on-campus COVID-19 testing and vaccination site for students, faculty, staff, and the community. In-person classes will begin on Wednesday.

“Following the recommended precautions is essential to limit the spread of the virus. Remember, we all share responsibility for keeping our friends, families, and campus community safe,” Robinson said.

Meanwhile, at the University of Miami, students will be doing remote learning for the first two weeks of the spring semester, according to a video message from UM President Julio Frenk. Classes will begin Jan. 18, he said, and in-person classes will resume Jan. 31.

The message also stated that “our definition of ‘fully immunized’ now includes receiving the appropriate booster dose, as soon as advised. Students who have not documented that they are fully vaccinated will continue to be tested twice a week,” among other measures.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have implemented an adaptive and responsive approach to keeping our community healthy,” Frenk said.

“At this point in the trajectory of COVID-19, the virus has adapted, becoming more contagious with the omicron variant. We also have to adapt.

Phoenix reporter Laura Cassels contributed to this report.

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