Houston News : UH cancels next week’s classes, plans shift to online courses

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University of Houston President Renu Khator, pictured in a 2018 file photo, announced Wednesday that next week’s classes have been canceled amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

University of Houston President Renu Khator, pictured in a 2018 file photo, announced Wednesday that next week’s classes have been canceled amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

Photo: Craig Moseley

University of Houston President Renu Khator, pictured in a 2018 file photo, announced Wednesday that next week’s classes have been canceled amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

University of Houston President Renu Khator, pictured in a 2018 file photo, announced Wednesday that next week’s classes have been canceled amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

Photo: Craig Moseley

UH cancels next week’s classes, plans shift to online courses

The University of Houston will not hold classes next week after students return from spring break, and then will only hold courses remotely in an effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, school officials announced Wednesday.

With the announcement, UH joins several other Texas higher education institutions in temporarily canceling classes due to the novel coronavirus, as well as three Houston-area K-12 districts and schools that announced temporary shutdowns Wednesday.

UH will begin holding its classes remotely on March 23.

The region’s other schools and districts remain open for now, following guidance from area health officials that closures are not necessary at this time. Most local districts are on spring break this week, with notable exceptions that include Houston, Alief and Spring Branch ISDs.

Health officials in Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery counties had announced 15 local cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, though experts expect the total will grow in the coming weeks.

UH leaders urged students to stay home and offered faculty and staff the option of working remotely as institutions across Greater Houston aimed to curb large gatherings of people. Housing and dining services still will be available to students who need them, while offices and laboratories will remain open, university officials said.

“At this time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the University of Houston,” school officials said in a statement. “We urge you to please follow personal hygiene precautions and exercise social distancing measures as recommended by (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and local health authorities.”

To the west, Baylor President Linda Livingstone said Wednesday the private Baptist university will extend its spring break for students through next week, resuming classes via an online format from March 23 through April 3.

The University of Texas at Austin announced classes would resume on campus March 30, with faculty and staff using the time to prepare for “social distancing” measures.

Prairie View A&M officials also said they are suspending classes until March 23, with faculty and staff still required to work. Rice University and Texas A&M universities temporarily stopped in-person classes in recent days.

On the local K-12 front, Montgomery ISD, a 9,000-student district located about 15 miles west of Conroe, and two small private Houston schools, Saint Thomas Episcopal School in Meyerland and The Joy School in the Museum District, said late Tuesday and Wednesday that they are shuttering as a precautionary measure.

Montgomery County officials reported Tuesday the metro area’s first non-travel-related case of the virus, while Saint Thomas Episcopal and Joy school leaders said members of their communities have had contact with individuals who tested positive or could test positive for the virus.

Montgomery ISD officials said they are canceling classes Thursday and Friday “out an abundance of caution and to provide additional time for a deep cleaning” of district facilities. District officials have not said there is any known nexus of students and staff to the patient positively identified as infected by COVID-19.

“I’m sure all of the districts are doing this deep cleaning now that there is a Montgomery County report,” said Sonja Lopez, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

Montgomery ISD is scheduled for spring break next week and a return to class following the hiatus.

St. Thomas Episcopal officials said they shut down the 600-student K-12 campus “as a precautionary measure” after a student was in contact with someone possibly exposed to COVID-19. The school will remain closed for two weeks, with spring break scheduled next week.

The Joy School also will stay shuttered for two weeks after two “community members each separately had some level of exposure” to an individual who has a confirmed novel coronavirus case, campus officials said. The 150-student school for students with disabilities takes spring break next week.

“One person had direct person-to-person contact, the other lives with someone who had direct person-to-person contact,” Joy School leader Shara Bumgarner said in a taped message to parents posted Tuesday. “Neither person in our community has been tested yet, nor are they exhibiting any symptoms.”

Compared to universities, school districts face additional challenges in suspending school. Many children rely on meals delivered at their campus, do not have access to laptops and Internet for distance learning and need adult supervision if forced to stay home.

Still, districts across the region are preparing for the possibility of additional closures and cancellations. While Houston health officials have advised against canceling classes, noting that healthy children remain at low risk for contracting the virus, that calculus could change if reports of COVID-19 continue to grow.

“We’ve been asking (districts) to plan for what would happen if this becomes more widespread,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said Wednesday.

Houston ISD administrators said Wednesday that they plan to continue classes through the end of the week, citing “guidance from the Houston Health Department.” Once the district returns from next week’s spring break, HISD officials plan to temporarily limit campus visitors, including parents and volunteers, and cancel all after-school activities and large campus gatherings.

In Alief, district officials announced they temporarily are suspending all school-sponsored field trips, ending community school events, stopping volunteers from accessing school facilities and banning parents from visiting for breakfast and lunch. University Interscholastic League events will continue until further notice.

Spring Branch leaders also revoked their approval of all district-sponsored trips, though families still can choose to travel to those events.

Reporter Brittany Britto contributed to this story.

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Source : chron.com