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Syracuse, St. Lawrence universities move all classes online due to coronavirus

Tom Magnarelli

Syracuse University will suspend residential instruction from this Friday until at least March 30 and move to online classes, over concerns from the coronavirus that continues to spread across New York, the university announced Tuesday.

Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation Mike Haynie said Tuesday after consultation with local health officials, medical professionals, and campus officials, the university will suspend on campus classes for the rest of the month.

“Ultimately, we believe this is the right and prudent decision on behalf of our students, but also our faculty and staff and the central New York community. It’s the right thing to do from a public health perspective,” Haynie said.

Classes will continue as scheduled for the rest of this week. Students are on spring break next week, which Haynie said contributed to the decision to cancel on campus classes.

“Almost 60% of our student population at the undergraduate level, if they return home, will return home to locations like downstate New York, California, China, Florida and New Jersey. The idea of then returning immediately from spring break and the potential risk that could pose to this community, we made this decision out of an abundance of caution,” Haynie saud.

Students who have nowhere to go during spring break are welcome to stay on campus. But students who leave will not be able to return. The university is expected to remain open for business until further notice.

Classes are expected to resume online later this month. Students are being asked to take anything with them in order to continue their classes in an online setting.

The university is also implementing on campus social distancing protocols. Any event where expected attandance is expected to exceed 50 people will be postponed, canceled or conducted online. The university has not yet said how that will affect athletic events.

“Given the rapid spread of coronavirus across New York state, the fluidity of the situation, and the uncertainty and concern the virus is causing in our community, we believe this decision is prudent and necessary,” Haynie said.

Credit File Photo / NCPR

St. Lawrence University, a private institution in Canton, is also canceling on-campus classes after spring break, which begins on March 13, through April 13 due to concerns over coronavirus.

In a letter to students, staff, and the university community, St. Lawrence president Bill Fox emphasized that no university student or staff member has tested positive for the new coronavirus, called COVID-19.

“We realize that many people will be traveling during the upcoming Spring Break," he wrote. "Our nation’s goal at this moment is mitigation, and we believe the threat to our rural campus community when hundreds of people return from break is far too great to continue a traditional semester plan. We are required to act now to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Students will do as much coursework as possible remotely. All University-sponsored Spring Break travel has been canceled. All sports events will be suspended until April 13.

Fox left open the possibility of canceling in-person classes longer, saying a reevaluation would occur by April 6. The St. Lawrence campus, however, will remain open. Faculty and staff are expected to continue their regular work schedules.

St. Lawrence joins a growing number of universities taking similar measures, including Colgate. Cornell University is moving to online classes for the rest of the semester.

David Sommerstein, a contributor from North Country Public Radio (NCPR), has covered the St. Lawrence Valley, Thousand Islands, Watertown, Fort Drum and Tug Hill regions since 2000. Sommerstein has reported extensively on agriculture in New York State, Fort Drum’s engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the lives of undocumented Latino immigrants on area dairy farms. He’s won numerous national and regional awards for his reporting from the Associated Press, the Public Radio News Directors Association, and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. He's regularly featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Only a Game, and PRI’s The World.
Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.
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