FM extends spring break

JOHNSTOWN — An announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday that State University of New York and City University of New York schools would move toward distance learning to reduce opportunities for the spread of the novel coronavirus will lead Fulton-Montgomery Community College to extend its spring recess by a week and develop plans in case further action is required. Acting President Greg Truckenmiller said students are currently expected to return to campus following spring break on March 30.

Truckenmiller today said that the SUNY chancellor advised schools that the governor would be holding a press conference on Wednesday afternoon that would impact colleges in the SUNY and CUNY system, but he was not apprised of the substance of the discussion prior to the televised press briefing.

Cuomo announced during the press conference that the SUNY and CUNY system would implement plans to reduce in-person classes through increased distance learning methods beginning on March 19 for the remainder of the spring semester to reduce opportunities for the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

The governor stated that all campuses would develop site specific plans based on their individual situations and curriculum needs to reduce density in the campus environment.

Truckenmiller said that SUNY issued guidance regarding the governor’s announcement following the press conference and provided FMCC additional clarification on how to proceed during an evening phone call.

“The early reports lacked some clarity in detail,” said Truckenmiller.

According to Truckenmiller, SUNY has requested that all campuses extend scheduled spring recesses from one week to two in order to increase social distancing. Additionally all campuses will be required to provide SUNY plans on how classes would proceed in the event campuses are required to close.

FMCC’s spring recess was originally scheduled for next week, that period has now been extended to begin on Friday with classes to resume on March 30. At this point Truckenmiller said there are no plans to close FMCC which is considered low risk by local health officials with no known cases in Fulton or Montgomery counties.

“We’re following the local health department which is indicating that we’re a low risk area, but what we’re telling students is if you’re sick please stay home,” he said.

Truckenmiller pointed to the announcement from the governor to increase social distancing as applying more directly to large campuses with lecture halls featuring individual classes with 200 to 300 students.

“Most of our classes are fairly small, so we don’t necessarily fall into that category,” said Truckenmiller. “Students will come back to class on the 30th of March, for the most part we’re kind of expecting it to be business as usual here, but that changes if the health department or the governor says otherwise.”

Over spring break faculty and administrators will develop a plan for the continuation of classes in the event the governor, the state Department of Health or local health departments require or recommend the closure of the campus.

Plans would include converting classes when possible to online formats through video conferencing or audio lectures. Truckenmiller noted that the college already offers online only classes and classes that combine in-person and online components.

The college was previously scheduled to present training to interested professors regarding online instructional methods, which will now be presented to all teachers to ensure they are prepared if it becomes necessary to close the campus.

Truckenmiller said that the college has the infrastructure and staff to support teachers who are unaccustomed to online teaching and SUNY is making additional online instructional tools available to schools at no cost.

“We already have a good foundation and we’re going to be able to ramp up quickly if we need to,” said Truckenmiller. “We feel comfortable and prepared.”

Although there have been no directives for the campus to close so far, Truckenmiller said that schools have been asked to cancel large events and mass gatherings.

“At this time of the year since we were on spring break we didn’t have a lot scheduled anyway, but we’re looking at the schedule to see what we put on the books for the next few weeks and we’ll cancel those,” he said.

Truckenmiller noted that FMCC is monitoring the situation and is in daily contact with officials at SUNY regarding measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but as of now the college will only look at canceling events that were scheduled to take place within the next few weeks and will continue reviewing items as needed as the spring progresses. The largest event currently on FMCC’s calendar, an open house on April 4, will likely be rescheduled.

To promote the continued health and wellness of students and staff on campus, Truckenmiller said facilities crews have reviewed and are following DOH guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing surfaces.

“Really at this time of year regardless of if there is a new strain of virus, it’s flu season, so our facilities team is always in a heightened state of cleaning,” he said. “We have hand sanitizer stations all over campus, they’re not new.”

Currently Truckenmiller expects classes to resume as per usual on March 30 following spring break.

“We’ll obviously get more information as the situation develops,” he added.

For more information on the novel coronavirus and methods to prevent transmission of the disease visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/.

By Patricia Older

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