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Coronavirus: Springfield College holds forum in response to COVID-19

By Collin Atwood

On Wednesday, March 11, around 500 students, staff and faculty gathered in Dodge to hear what Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper had to say about the school’s upcoming plan regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

“Springfield College is extending spring break, originally scheduled for March 14-22, by adding one additional week which will conclude March 29, 2020. The decision was made in an effort to reduce potential pathways for community spread of COVID-19 within our community,” Cooper said.

Students living on campus should pack and prepare to be home for two weeks.

This extra week will provide the faculty the proper time to plan for online classes if necessary. Whether Springfield College transfers over to online classes or not, the current plan of action is to have classes start up again Monday, March 30.

“Classes and College events will continue as scheduled through Sunday, March 15, 2020,” Cooper said.

To assure proper sanitation, The Wellness Center, including the Rec Center, pool and wellness activities, will be closed from March 14 through March 22 so the Department of Facilities and Management can clean thoroughly. The Health Center will stay open for anyone who may need it.

To help avoid spreading the virus, the College is asking that guests do not visit campus during the two week break and that the staff should limit contact by having meetings via phone or email.

“All spring break travel has been canceled, effective Saturday, March 14,” Cooper said. If people are to travel to a Level II or Level III location prior to April 30, 2020, they will be in self-quarantine for 14 days and not allowed on campus.

When it comes to athletes and future sporting events on campus, student-athletes will be allowed to stay on campus for training. Unless told otherwise by coaches or the athletic director, all sports teams are planning to continue their seasons without spectators, with the exception of immediate family.

This is not ideal, but with the virus spreading at a constant rate, this is what Cooper has decided is best for the safety of everyone at Springfield College.

“I understand that this is a very disappointing and stressful time for many of you,” Cooper said.

Students, faculty and staff will continue to be updated. For more information on updates, check the College’s COVID-19 website.

“We as a college will continue to work on contingency plans each and every day, with the goal of finishing this semester strong,” Cooper said.

Q+A Session Takeaways

Q: How should students domestically plan based on having to cancel return flights and would we be reimbursed for that?

A: “That’s a good question. In terms of personal reimbursement, we are still searching through all of the financial matters. So I can’t stand up here and tell you that you’re going to be reimbursed for your travel, but we’ll be in touch. We will have a process for you to look at. Domestic travel – a lot of the airlines are doing a really wonderful job, I had to cancel a flight myself, in terms of flexibility. I think you will find a great deal of flexibility from all of the airlines.”

Q: You keep saying online, but what does that mean? Does that mean BrightSpace, does that mean Zoom? Will I have to go to six different websites for all of my classes?

A: “It primarily means BrightSpace for instruction. However we are going to be using multiple ways of interacting. It may be FaceTiming with people if you have an advisory meeting, you may interact with somebody in that particular motem. For those people that do have difficulty with WiFi, we could also use a phone and have phone conversations. I think you’re going to see a wide variety. For instructional purposes, it will be BrightSpace. The faculty will have an opportunity in the next 5-7 days to get more and more training on BrightSpace, so you can anticipate that it will be smoother.”

Q: Is graduation going to be pushed back because of the week of no classes whatsoever?

A: “No, we are not changing the end of the semester as of yet. We haven’t talked about that even as an option. We have gotten permission from the Department of Education to truncate the semester, so we’re very aware – this is not just happening here, it’s happening everywhere. The other part is that our accreditation agency has approved our online programs. That is a big, big step for Springfield College moving forward.”

Q: What factors are being considered in making these decisions?

A: “I am trying to be conservative and trying to make that decision, and reasonable in terms of watching how the virus plays out. Each day we get a series of information from the CDC or the World Health Organization or our state governor saying we’re going to go under State of Emergency. All of that evidence points us to what is the best practice for us to do for Springfield College. Today, at 8:45 p.m., we are not making the decision to send you home for the rest of the semester based on what is available to me today. When I know more information we may make a different decision, but we’ll see again if we can isolate and reduce our mitigation of some of the spreading of the virus. It could be incredibly beneficial.”

Q: For those of us that live across the country, and I can’t be flying back and forth so with everything so up in the air, how would that decision be made along the way?

A: “I think you’re going to find, again, that airlines are being very flexible. I don’t anticipate that you’ll be flying back and forth repeatedly. Once we make the decision to have students back here on campus, unless something upends, it would be for the remainder of the semester. We will be in touch, you will want to be sure that you have access to PrideNET to keep current on that.” 

Q: I know a lot of students use the academic success center for test taking. If we go online, what is happening with accomodations?

A: “There will be services available online, I am sure of it. We’ll figure out what that looks like, but they’ll be available.”

Q: I have a question for the students that rely on the health center and the counseling center for their well-being. Are you guys going to allow a stipend for them to use other places?

A: “The health center is going to be open for the students that are here, and in terms of moving forward we haven’t talked about what services will be available online for that or the potential for some of those services being on either FaceTime or Zoom or some other mechanism. We’re going to look at that, that is an excellent question. We need to think about how those students are supported while they’re away.”

Q: If we do go to online learning for the rest of the semester, are we going to be reimbursed for housing and meal plans?

A: “We are looking at that as well and we’ll be talking about that…Our hope is that that’s not what happens but if it does, you can assure that we will find a way.”

Q: What does this mean for international students who can’t necessarily go home and have nowhere to go in the States?

A: “They will be staying here on campus (along with the AmeriCorps, student teaching, athletes, and clinical students)…They will not pay for their housing (for the extra week). There will be charges associated with the meal plan.”

Q: If we have to resort to virtual learning, when will we find out? Not everyone has access to internet, laptops, etc.

A: “We will be meeting as early as Monday of next week to start talking about that. There are also a number of courses that don’t translate as well online…Rest assured we’re going to take a look at every course we offer online to insure that we’re going to get you in a situation where you can graduate.”

Q: For all the spring athletes, if school is (virtual), will the spring sports season be cancelled?

A: “We are in conversations, we started today, with NEWMAC as we watch our neighboring sports leagues cancel throughout the rest of the season. I don’t mind telling you personally, I am all for keeping sports until the end of their seasons. I don’t know how that will play out with my peers.”

Q: Not being able to possibly walk across the stage is heartbreaking. Some schools have already cancelled graduation months in advance. Is that even a thought for Springfield right now?

A: “I am not currently thinking that way. That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen…We understand that day is very, very important for you and your families.”

Q: If we have to go to virtual, how will we be able to get back and pack the rest of our stuff?

A: “We’ll bring you back. We’ll figure out logistics for that. There are other schools who are asking students to pack up and vacate their residence halls. We are not doing that.”

Q: Is there a way for Federal Work Study students to get compensated?

A: “We will continue pay in some way. Don’t worry, if you’re getting Federal Work Study money, you will continue to get it in some way, even if you’re not on campus.”

Q: The students studying abroad in Italy were brought back. Are there students in other countries that are being looked at as well?

A: “At this moment, we’ve not called any other programs back. I do believe Barcelona is in conversations on limited travel for those that are on site…We’re watching that.”

Q: A lot of people are going home to state of emergencies, counties where there are confirmed cases, etc. Is there going to be some type of testing when we come back to campus to make sure we don’t bring it back with us?

A: “Well that’s the main reason colleges and universities are closing all together…The reality of it is, once people go home, or go to international countries or level two or level three countries, what will they bring back? So we will not only be watching the registry, but we’ll also be asking people who are sick…If you know you’ve been in contact, following the CDC’s regulations…There may be some students that are not able to return based on what they interact with.”

Additional coronavirus coverage:

Mary-Beth Cooper on making tough decisions

Reactions from students regarding extended spring break

Reactions from student-athletes on spring break trips being cancelled

Reactions from students on alternative spring break trips being cancelled

A look into decisions of schools surrounding Springfield College

Featured photo courtesy Evan Wheaton

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