COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill reconsiders daily COVID-19 reports, withdrawal deadline and time off for students

Early this week, as UNC-Chapel Hill became the first UNC System school to shift undergraduate courses online in the face of mounting COVID-19 infections, the university left a lot of unanswered questions.

Why was the school giving weekly updates on positive COVID-19 tests, citing privacy concerns, when other UNC schools were providing daily updates?

With tuition due the day that the school announced the shift online, would the deadline be extended or refunds made available for those who wished to withdraw?

Why was the school not canceling even a single day of classes as masses of students moved off-campus and faculty shifted back to teaching online?

Would students be required to make up any days off if their classes did pause instruction?

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz

On Thursday the school began providing daily updates to its COVID-19 dashboard, despite earlier concerns that providing aggregate data would somehow violate individual privacy.

On Wednesday, the school reported 91 new positive COVID tests in a single day, a number large enough that it may have mitigated the school’s fears of anyone being able to determine precisely who on campus is testing positive.

The school has so far identified six infection clusters — defined by the state Department of Health and Human Services as at least five infections in a related location — on and around its campus. Though other schools are giving the number of infections within the clusters, UNC-Chapel Hill has not.

Beginning Friday, the school will begin giving precise numbers for clusters in residence halls.

In a message released Thursday evening, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced shifts in several of those decisions and clarity on some of the school’s confusing next steps.

First, Guskiewicz reversed the school’s decision to continue to hold class, even virtually, during this chaotic time on campus — a move that generated enormous blowback from students, faculty and even alumni.

“To our students, we recognize that the past two weeks have been a roller coaster for many of you, especially those who came to Chapel Hill only to experience a growing number of COVID cases on our campus,” Guskiewicz wrote. “Those escalating numbers and the ensuing change of plans created turmoil, and as a result, you are now making significant changes to your daily lives and the plans you had for your semester. Many of you need to move your residences, in addition to transitioning to remote instruction.”

“With this in mind, we are pausing all undergraduate instruction on Monday, August 24, and Tuesday, August 25 to give students time to move their belongings, catch their breath and make this transition in as equitable a way as possible,” Guskiewicz wrote. “Undergraduate classes will resume on Wednesday, August 26. Undergraduate students who are currently enrolled in courses taught in one of Carolina’s professional schools should contact their faculty for further guidance.”

Guskiewicz also announced the school would be extending the deadline for students to withdraw from classes and would pro-rate tuition.

“Additionally, we are extending the deadline from August 21 to August 31 for undergraduate students to drop classes without receiving a ‘W’ mark and have their tuition pro-rated accordingly,” Guskiewicz wrote. “This extension will provide more time for students – particularly new students – to understand remote learning expectations and talk with their academic advisors about their course loads if needed.”

Last month the UNC Board of Governors voted not to decrease, prorate or refund tuition and fees at UNC System schools as the result of a school moving instruction online, a decision that was controversial even among members of the board.

Guskiewicz also announced that the school will do mandatory testing of residents and employees in dorms that have experienced clusters.

“With an increasing rate of positive tests, it is necessary to conduct large group testing to help identify more cases and help prevent further spread,” Guskiewicz wrote in his message Thursday. “Residents in these halls will receive an email later this evening with instructions on how to get tested.

“All employees who work in Ehringhaus, Hinton James and Granville Towers, including housekeepers, will be tested starting tomorrow in a separate process and will receive a communication with more details,” Guskiewicz wrote.

Students, faculty and staff pressed for wide-scale testing before classes began, a move the university resisted.

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