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KU, K-State, Emporia State Move Classes Online Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Watson Library at the University of Kansas is the school's largest and oldest library.  (Photo by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service)
Watson Library at the University of Kansas is the school's largest and oldest library. (Photo by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service)

UPDATE: Emporia State Joins KU, K-State in Moving All University Classes Online

EMPORIA, Kan. (Lawrence Journal-World) — Emporia State University has joined the University of Kansas and Kansas State University - and other colleges across the country - in shifting classes online to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus.  All three campuses are on spring break this week.  The University of Kansas announced Wednesday and Kansas State and Emporia State said today (THUR) that they would delay the start of classes that usually meet in-person until March 23, when the classes will be taught remotely.  According to the Lawrence Journal-World, Kansas State and Emporia State say the remote classes would continue “until further notice.”  The University of Kansas said they may continue for several weeks.

Earlier reporting...

UPDATE: Kansas State University Also Suspends in-Person Classes
MANHATTAN, Kan. (KPR) — Kansas State University has announced it is suspending in-person classes on campus from March 16-20. Classes will resume remotely beginning March 23 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 after spring break. This change affects all K-State campuses. Classes currently online will continue as scheduled. All campuses will remain open to continue to serve the essential needs of students and faculty. "Right now, the K-State community is dispersed throughout the nation and globe during spring break," said Richard Myers, K-State president. "When everyone returns, it could increase the risk of the spread of the novel coronavirus. There are prudent steps we can take to mitigate this risk and protect our campuses and local communities." Students, faculty, staff and the general public are encouraged to check k-state.edu/covid-19 for the latest information. The situation continues to change rapidly. Specific questions may be sent to covid19@k-state.edu.


KU Moves Classes Online Due to Coronavirus, Other Kansas Colleges May Follow Suit
By Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — The University of Kansas has delayed the start of in-person classes until March 23. And, school officials say, they may continue with online-only classes for weeks after that due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus. ( KU has posted more information here.)

Meanwhile, top administrators at other public universities in the state made clear they may follow suit with their own campus shutdowns.

The Kansas Board of Regents, which governs public universities in Kansas, has voted to allow each school to make its own decision about how to address the coronavirus and whether to extend spring break and switch to online classes. Most modifications to the academic calendar require the board's approval. In an emergency meeting Wednesday night, the regents and the heads of KU, Kansas State University and other schools weighed the costs and benefits of keeping students, many of whom are on spring break, from returning to campus for at least two more weeks.

If Kansas colleges shut down their classrooms and go online to slow the spread of the virus, they would join more than 100 schools around the country that have sent students home. Among them: the University of Missouri, Harvard University, Syracuse University, Rice University and all the public colleges in Ohio.

Lee Norman, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said there has been no community transmission of the coronavirus in the state. So far, Kansas has confirmed only a single case of the illness -- a Johnson County woman who was diagnosed after traveling to the northeastern U.S. But Norman warned officials during the meeting that people returning to campus from other states or countries could easily be carrying the virus. Norman suggested sending students home rather than risk infections from interactions in dorms, dining halls and at off-campus hangouts. “We’re on a banana peel right now,” he told the board. “It would take one person, or a small cluster of people, to come back and infect all the people around them. The safest thing to do,” he said, “is cancel classes.”

The most likely plan, according to some university officials, is to extend spring break by one week. This will give instructors and staff time to prepare materials for online teaching.  Students would be instructed not to return to campus for some, as yet uncertain, period of time.

It would be better to be overly cautious than under-prepared, said KU Chancellor Doug Girod. He noted that a couple of KU faculty have been exposed to the coronavirus at conferences and a family in Lawrence is under investigation for exposure. “I would argue we would hold profound liability in this situation,” he said. “If somebody dies on my campus, I’m going to get sued.” Girod said KU plans to reach out to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and city manager for collaboration on keeping students from congregating in businesses off campus. “The focus is to not let students lose progress towards a degree,” he said.

K-State will try to reduce the risk of transmission the best it can, but not every student can leave the school, said university president Richard Myers. That includes international students, people who live in off-campus housing, and others who have no place to go. “It’s not going to work for all students,” Myers said. “We’re just trying to mitigate the risk the best we can. We know it’s not a 100% solution.” Especially at risk are older faculty and staff, who have a higher risk of being seriously ill if they contract the virus, he added. “A campus is not just students,” Myers said.

Officials discussed whether to keep campuses shuttered for the rest of the semester, or just for a couple of weeks, with a re-evaluation and possible extension if more people test positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

Jay Golden, the president of Wichita State University, said the school might have to send students home early because its spring break begins March 23.

Allison Garrett, president of Emporia State University, said student-athletes would continue with practice, and attendance at events would be limited to athletes and required staff. The school plans to resume normal operations for staff next week, although students will not be on campus. It plans to allow staff to work from home if needed.

Other issues will be decided at the regents’ regular meeting on March 18, said board president and CEO Blake Flanders. Among them are credit for science labs, which are difficult to complete online.

The board decided to let universities make their own decision because each school is so different, Flanders told the Kansas News Service after the meeting. While not every university has released a public plan, they have been discussing contingencies for weeks. “I'm not sure every element was set in stone,” he said, “but I think they have a really good idea about how they're going to move forward.” 

Editor's Note: Kansas Public Radio, KCUR Radio and other partners in the Kansas News Service collaboration are pooling resources to provide updated information on coronavirus and COVID-19 in Kansas.  Find it here:  Updated Regularly: What Kansans Need to Know About COVID-19 and Coronavirus

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Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for KCUR and the Kansas News Service. Follow her on Twitter @NominUJ. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

The Kansas News Service produces essential enterprise reporting, diving deep and connecting the dots in tracking the policies, issues and and events that affect the health of Kansans and their communities. The team is based at KCUR and collaborates with public media stations and other news outlets across Kansas. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org. The Kansas News Service is made possible by a group of funding organizations, led by the Kansas Health Foundation. Other founders include United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation and the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.