GREAT FALLS — UPDATE:
Montana’s Commissioner of Higher Education is directing all schools in the Montana University System to switch to online and remote classes in response to concerns over the new coronavirus.
In a statement Thursday, Commissioner Clayton Christian announced that he, along with the state Board of Regents, was asking campuses to transition away from in-person classes whenever possible, as of March 23. Leaders stressed that the semester will continue, though the vast majority of courses will be conducted online.
Karen Ogden, communications director for the commissioner’s office, said the university system created an intercampus response team to monitor the coronavirus in January. She said they decided to take action this week in order to be proactive, after seeing the spread of cases continue across the U.S.
“Our safety of our students and our faculty and our staff is our top priority, and we also have a responsibility to the communities who host our campuses,” said Ogden.
Next week is Spring Break across most of the system. The new mandate will take effect when students return from break.
Leaders expect many students will complete their coursework from home. However, campuses will remain open, and services like residence halls, dining and computer labs will keep operating. Ogden said they are aware that some students, especially in programs that require lab work, will have to stay on campus to finish their work.
Administrators say there are still many details to work out about how the new remote class delivery will be handled. They hope to use the Spring Break period to get as much ready as they can.
“It will be a considerable amount of work, but we’re up to the challenge and we’ll be better for it,” Ogden said.
Leaders encouraged students at MUS schools to check their university emails regularly in the coming weeks, so they can receive the latest updates from instructors and administrators. They also reminded everyone to follow the guidelines health leaders have set out for limiting the spread of coronavirus – including covering coughs, washing hands regularly and staying home when you are sick.
Ogden said the directive on remote classes will not apply to Montana’s community colleges or tribal colleges. She encouraged students at those colleges to contact their administrators for updates on what steps they are taking.
Reporting by Jonathon Ambarian in Helena
ORIGINAL: All Montana University System schools are being directed to transition all in-class instruction to "online or other remote teaching modalities that do not require in-class presence" due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) across the nation and in many communities.
Clayton Christian, the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education, made the announcement on Thursday, March 12, and it will go into effect on March 23.
Christian said the decision was made in partnership with the Board of Regents, and applies to all MUS campuses. The directive also states that all MUS campuses will remain open and operational for students, including residence halls, dining services, and most other campus services. Employees of MUS will continue working unless instructed otherwise.
The directive also says that all MUS campuses will "implement appropriate social distancing measures in line with CDC guidelines and recommendations," including restrictions on large lectures, theater performances, academic conferences, and other large gatherings. The measures will remain in effect until further notice, according to Christian.
Great Falls College-MSU announced on Thursday that it will be extending spring break one week for students so that faculty and administration can prepare to deliver classes remotely. Classes were originally set to resume on Monday, March 16.
There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 actually in Montana. Here is the latest update from the Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services as of Thursday morning:
- Reported COVID-19 Cases in Montana: 1*
- Individuals monitored by public health: 30
- - Individuals who have completed monitoring process: 26
- - Individuals who remain under monitoring: 4
- Persons tested for CoVID-19: 34
- - Persons with negative results: 34
- - Persons with positive results: 0
The sole confirmed Montana case is a Lake County woman who is currently in Maryland. Health officials in Maryland say the woman was last in Montana in November 2019, has not returned to the state since that time, and was not in Montana during the 14-day incubation period. Despite the fact that the woman is not in Montana currently and has not been in Montana since she was exposed and tested positive, current CDC guidelines mandate that her case is considered to be a "Montana" case. Click here for more information.