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Coronavirus in Florida

Private colleges remain open, but deal with challenges of COVID-19

Most have shifted coursework online, which is easier some places than others.

A coalition of 30 private college presidents says they will find a way to let their students finish the spring terms.

And despite a confusing directive from the Department of Education, the schools will not completely shutter in coming months.

“Contrary to recent media coverage, neither the Governor of Florida nor the Florida Department of Education has ordered or mandated that all private college campuses and buildings close for the remainder of the spring semester,” reads a Thursday press release from the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.

“However, with the spread and threat of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Florida independent, nonprofit colleges and universities are taking aggressive measures to keep students, staff and stakeholders safe from harm, while also providing essential services to the students they serve.”

Colleges will employ a variety of measures including online learning to help reduce exposure to illness.

“Florida’s independent colleges and universities consider the health and safety of their students and staff the top priority, particularly right now with the threat of COVID-19,” said Bob Boyd, ICUF president and CEO.

“These institutions have implemented the guidance of the CDC and are following the directions of state and local governments. Where permitted, many remain open to support their students — many of whom depend on their school for housing and meals — through this difficult time.”

Some schools will have a more difficult time than others. Ringling College of Art & Design President Larry Thompson said it has been a challenge getting art classes to a place where they can be taught digitally.

“That’s a huge transition for us,” Thompson said. “But the faculty have stepped up to the plate. Institution technology has stepped up to plate with remarkable and incredible solutions so that students can actually get their work done and get their projects done.”

Sculpture students are using 3-D art programs. Some courses like glass blowing may require completion at a later date when classes can be held on campus again. But there’s a focus on getting seniors graduated and all other students advancing through their curriculum on time.

It’s a challenge facing schools across the state.

IFUS listed 30 colleges taking efforts to continue courses through spring term.

Ave Maria University has had students back from spring break for 10 days, but starting Monday will suspend in-class instruction and move all coursework online. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University extended its spring break through Tuesday, then shifted all classwork to the web. The University of Miami rescheduled its spring graduation ceremonies for December.

But in all cases, there’s still some use of campus facilities by staff and students.

Thompson notes most colleges, including Ringling, have many international students still living in residence halls with no reasonable way to return home.

It caught schools off guard when the Department of Education issued a release Tuesday announcing “all public state colleges, and private college and campuses and buildings are closed for the remainder of the spring semester.”

The Department has since walked back the statement to stress it will only urge campuses to take such precautions.

Independent colleges, of course, do not fall under the direction of the department, but the state does authorize them to do business. Thompson notes that like any private businesses, colleges are subject to executive orders from the Governor’s Office.

“But we want to make certain people understood that is not the order from the state,” Thompson said. “We are open.”

And that will be the case even if campuses appear less bustling than normal in the spring.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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