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Millersville moves majority of classes online, asks students to leave campus

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About four weeks from the start of the semester, Millersville University's president announced Monday it would be moving the majority of its classes online.

More than 80% of instruction will be provided remotely, which might include a combination of synchronous, or live lessons, and asynchronous independent work.

The decision was based on a continued increase of COVID-19 cases nationally, the university noted. The number of positive cases climbed from 2,108,093 on June 15 to 4,220,054 on July 26, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

More:UPDATE: York County has 31 new cases of COVID-19, 1 new death

“This approach will further decrease population density on campus and assist us in making our safety and mitigation efforts more effective," university President Daniel A. Wubah noted in a letter released Monday.

But this also means Millersville would need to reduce its on-campus residents. The university is instituting a one-per-bedroom approach to account for social distancing.

To do this, officials are asking students who live in The Villages, Shenks Hall or Reighard Hall to voluntarily opt out by 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3.

Otherwise, some students in those halls might be forced off campus after the deadline.

Colleges in York County have not yet made the leap to nearly full-time online delivery, instead opting for more hybrid models, but they also have fewer cases than Lancaster County, where Millersville is located.

The state Department of Health in a news release Monday said officials are seeing significant increases in cases among 19- to 24-year-olds — now more than in groups 50 to 64 and 65 and over.

The southeast region, including Lancaster County, has seen cases in that age group increase from about 5% of all cases in April to about 19% in July.

Lancaster as of Thursday had 5,488 cases compared with York County's 2,243, according to department data.

Schools will have to make decisions based on local data, said Tom Foley, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, in a livestream with the state auditor general Tuesday.

"Is it worse to close down in the middle of the semester? It’s really hard to say," he said.

While it would be easier for schools to go remote now and avoid disruption later, the importance of keeping housing open to vulnerable students, such as first-generation or low-income, as long as possible cannot be overlooked.

"They’re doing the best they can, cause you don’t know what you don’t know," said state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale of schools.

Penn State York spokesperson Barbara Dennis said there were no changes to what the university had already announced on June 14.

More:Penn State campuses to open for in-person instruction this fall

Medium-sized classes would likely move into larger spaces, and larger classes would move into areas such as the community room or conference center.

Larger classes might use remote learning occasionally or have part of the class attend some days and switch out with the others so everyone gets a chance at face-to-face instruction, the school's chancellor David Christiansen had said.  

Penn State York does not have on-campus housing, so it does not have to worry about sending students home should the county move back into the more restrictive red or yellow phases.

Penn State York Chancellor David Christiansen in his office in the John J. Romano Administration Building at Penn State York in Spring Garden Township, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert

York College, however, would need to make a decision. Its campus is slated to welcome students back during a staggered move-in period from Aug. 17 to Aug. 23.

A school spokesperson directed The York Dispatch to its website for any updates.

The school had also planned on a blended instruction plan, as noted June 16, and officials have since released some additional details via a Return to Campus web page.

"For some courses, face-to-face instruction will be rotational. That means that the class will be split into two cohorts who will rotate with respect to days of face-to-face and virtual instruction," notes a section on social distancing in the classroom.

"Students should expect that all instruction will be synchronous. Whether face-to-face or virtual, instruction will occur in real-time, and if virtual, using Zoom," the guidance continues.

This means each classroom will be a “Zoom classroom,” where the professor is teaching online and in-person students at the same time. 

Signs block the entrances to York College, Thursday, March 19, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Hands-on classwork, such as labs, will be handled on a case-by-case basis, but if necessary, lab kits, online simulations, recorded demonstrations and other options would be available, the website notes.

At Millersville, science and engineering labs; performing visual or studio arts and clinical, field or student teaching placements will still be offered in person or on a hybrid schedule.

"We are acutely aware of the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and very mindful of our students’ desire to be engaged in the unique Millersville experience," Wubah said.