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TWU extends spring break, will likely move classes online amid COVID-19 pandemic

This story has been updated.

Texas Woman’s University announced this week it will extend spring break another week in response to concerns over COVID-19 and move future face-to-face classes online.

Chancellor Carine Feyten, in a series of emails and updates to the TWU website Thursday and Friday, announced the university will extend spring break for students at Denton, Dallas and Houston campuses until March 23, when all classes will resume online. TWU campuses and dorms will remain open during the spring break extension and services including dining, health and counseling will continue, though hours may be modified. Facilities including Fitness and Recreation and the Blagg-Huey Library will also remain open during the extended break.

Nonessential university travel has been restricted, and planned events will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and limited to essential workers, families and students choosing to remain on campus.

Though the university has not publicly confirmed how long online learning will last, instructors said they have been asked to use the extended break to transition classes online from March 23 until at least April 20, after which finishing the semester remotely remains a possibility. Visual Arts students received an email Thursday informing them studios and other art facilities will be closed after March 23, but the university has not confirmed whether other campus departments and facilities will remain open to the public after the extended break.

“The plan for now is the campus remains open,” Matt Flores, assistant vice president of university communications, said.

Feyten stressed in the announcement that the measures being taken are for the safety of the university and local communities.

“As additional cases of the virus are diagnosed in Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth in particular, we will be implementing additional social distancing measures,” Feyten wrote. “Implementing social distancing measures will help us slow the spread of the virus while supporting your educational goals.”

An additional announcement sent out by Chancellor Feyten via email Friday instructed members of the TWU community who have traveled abroad in the past two weeks to self-isolate.

“Based on CDC recommendations, all TWU students and employees who have traveled to ANY international location within the past 14 days are requested to complete a self-report form,” Feyten wrote. “In addition, employees and students who have traveled internationally since February 29th, must self-isolate for 14 days after your return to the U.S., and report to TWU Risk Management prior to resuming usual campus related activities.”

A growing number of cases in the U.S. have prompted similar moves from universities across the country attempting to control the spread of COVID-19, which has been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization and prompted President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency. NCTC announced Thursday it will extend its spring break, and The University of North Texas cancelled classes for the week of March 16-22, moving face-to-face classes online for the remainder of the semester amid the increase in local cases.

Denton County Public Health is actively monitoring 26 people for symptoms of COVID-19 under a public health quarantine but has not confirmed any cases, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle.  Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson declared a state of emergency Thursday evening after Dallas County confirmed five additional cases of coronavirus and banned gatherings of more than 500 people until at least March 20. Collin County also had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of noon Thursday, and Tarrant County had one confirmed case.

Students have expressed disappointment as athletic events, conferences and other public gatherings have been suspended in response to the virus.

TWU’s announcement comes on the heels of petitions to close the TWU and UNT campuses that have been circulating online, gathering over 9,000 signatures combined.

“Just like our neighboring university, UNT, we are calling on the administration of the Texas Woman’s University to take decisive and proactive action to ensure the safety of our students and their families in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the TWU petition description reads. “We urge the administration to cancel face-to-face classes and activities and transition to virtual instruction.”

Feyten encouraged members of the TWU community to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help prevent the virus’s spread, and to follow the TWU and CDC websites for the latest information on the evolving situation.

Amber Gaudet can be reached via email at agaudet@twu.edu and on Twitter as amb_balam.

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