Power to move classes online is with UNC system universities

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Leaders of the state’s colleges and universities said Tuesday decisions to move to remote learning should remain with the schools as they asked state legislators for millions of dollars in additional funding to deal with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In recent days, leaders of UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and East Carolina all have decided to move undergraduate classes to remote learning following reports of clusters of COVID-19 cases.  

“We are making sure that the lessons learned on those campuses are shared with chancellors on the other campuses,” said Jennifer Haygood, senior vice president of finance and administration for the UNC system. “We are making decisions on a campus-by-campus basis.” 

UNC-Chapel Hill reported a COVID-19 cluster of cases in Koury residence hall Tuesday, the eighth cluster tied to residence halls. 

As of Sunday, 784 students and 51 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Off-campus activity is where we continue to have challenges,” said Haygood. “(Students) will be held accountable for off-campus violations of executive orders.” 

Greear Webb, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, chose not to move back to campus this semester out of concern with how the virus would spread.  

“I think it’s time for the UNC system to step up and become true leaders and go ahead and close it down because I believe that’s in the best interest of those students, faculty members and essential workers across the state,” Webb. “It definitely gave that expectation that this is going to happen around the state.” 

The Raleigh News and Observer published an editorial this week titled, “It’s not working. Send NC college students home.”  

“We respectfully strongly disagree,” said Dr. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU). “We think that we are doing everything possible. And, we agree that it is an institutional decision, that each institution has to look at the metrics, at the science, at the data.” 

The discussion about whether to continue classes on campus came up Tuesday during a legislative meeting on funding for schools.  

State lawmakers are trying to determine how to spend between $552 million and $903 million in remaining Coronavirus Relief Funding from the federal CARES Act. Legislators will be back in session in Raleigh Sept. 2.  

The UNC system requested $100 million and “flexibility” to spend it on: testing, contact tracing, building modifications to account for social distancing, cleaning and technology for students. 

The NCICU is asking for $51 million for: financial aid, PPE, cleaning supplies, COVID-19 testing and costs to meet CDC and DHHS guidance.  

The NC Community College System says it needs $76.6 million for: contracting faculty, support for reduced class sizes, equipment and training for short-term training as well as PPE and testing.  

The state Board of Education and Department of Public Instruction also are asking for about $122 million and to ensure that districts don’t lose funding due to declining fall enrollment in the event students return to public schools once they reopen for in-person instruction. 

“Schools today that are operating in Plan C, we hope to soon be in Plan B. And therefore, schools continue from Plan B to Plan A. That’s our ultimate objective,” said Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education. “Our top priority is to defeat this virus sufficiently to safely return our teachers, students and staff to schools as quickly as possible.”  

Davis said the funding requests include: $44.5 million for PPE, $15 million for Internet connectivity and $18 million in a special transportation allotment. 

The SBE is also seeking $1 million for a pilot program with Space X to utilize 1,000 hot spots to connect to low-orbit satellites and provide Internet connections to hard-to-reach communities.

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