KU moves classes online for entire spring semester; commencement status still undecided

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from May 15, 2016, University of Kansas mascot Big Jay is dressed in graduation regalia during KU's commencement.

Story updated at 1:34 p.m. Tuesday

The University of Kansas on Tuesday announced that its classes for the remainder of the academic year would be held remotely to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move came a day after an order from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly dictated that gatherings for the next two months be limited to under 50 people. Tuesday morning, the Douglas County health department also ordered an eight-week halt to public gatherings of 50 or more people, and it recommended keeping gatherings under 10 people for the same period.

“It’s become clear that we, as a community, must now be very bold and intentional in our actions to limit face-to-face interaction and help prevent the spread of this outbreak,” Chancellor Douglas Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said in the written announcement.

Girod and Bichelmeyer said KU had not yet decided the status of its May commencement ceremonies. The current commencement date of May 17 is just outside of CDC guidelines for public gatherings, so the university decided to wait before deciding its status.

“Our ceremony is both beautiful and a rite unlike others,” KU’s leaders said. “It’s worth waiting a bit longer and monitoring developments before we make a decision on this tradition.”

On Monday, Haskell University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University were among Kansas colleges that moved all courses online and canceled spring graduation ceremonies.

Also in KU’s announcement was a mandate to significantly reduce the number of students in university housing. Only residents who have a demonstrated need to maintain a physical presence on the Lawrence campus can stay, KU said.

“This is a very hard decision, but one that is necessary to protect the health of students,” Girod and Bichelmeyer said. “Students who have not returned yet to campus housing should remain where they are.”

In a separate email to students, KU Housing said all facilities will be closed through a tiered process that begins Friday. Students currently in KU residential facilities must pack their belongings and check out of their room by Friday at 2 p.m. or request an exemption to stay.

To be granted an exemption to keep living in KU facilities, a student must meet a certain criteria, which housing staff has identified as follows:

• Your permanent residence is outside the United States and you are unable to travel to your home country.

• Your employing department at KU has identified you as a critical, on-site student employee and you accept that responsibility.

• You have a personal circumstance preventing you from returning home.

Examples of those circumstances might include:

• Returning home represents a health or safety risk to you or those at home.

• Returning home prevents you from accessing courses remotely because of insufficient internet or technology capabilities.

• You or your family do not have a permanent address.

• Your home community is quarantined.

It is important to note that KU students currently cannot return to university facilities to get their belongings.

In its email to students, Housing staff said access to all buildings has been turned off until a full move-out plan can be determined and social distancing can be prioritized. That plan will be given to students by Wednesday at 4 p.m.

KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said the university is still working on plans to issue refunds for housing and dining services.

“KU is working to determine how to best address the financial components of today’s decisions across the campus, including refunds for housing and dining,” she told the Journal-World in an email.

KU employees are now encouraged to work remotely as much as possible, the university said.

“To be clear, our situation is not like a snow day. Students are still learning and earning class credit. Research is still being conducted. Services are still being provided. Our university is and will continue to be very operational and productive,” Girod and Bichelmeyer said.

Employees, including student employees, will continue to be paid, but KU will ask them not to come to campus unless they’ve been identified by a supervisor as a mission-essential, on-site employee.

Girod and Bichelmeyer’s message also dictates that all university events, even those deemed mission-essential, will be limited to 10 or fewer in-person participants through May 15. All told, however, the changes shouldn’t be viewed as KU shutting down, they said.

“Let us be clear. KU is not ‘closing,'” Girod and Bichelmeyer said. “We instead are redefining how we deliver our services and maintain quality and integrity with a provisional, limited on-campus presence.”

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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