ONEONTA — Students at SUNY Oneonta were just two weeks into their fall semester before getting the news that they’ll be going home to finish out the semester virtually after nearly 400 coronavirus cases were confirmed at the downstate college.
In a letter to students on Thursday, the school’s president, Barbara Jean Morris, announced that newly-appointed SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras would be visiting the campus that afternoon in order to direct the college to develop and implement a plan to send students living on campus home and cease all in-person classroom instruction, as well as activities, for the remainder of the fall semester.
“While this is sudden news and something no one wanted, the risk to our campus and Oneonta community is too great,” Ms. Morris said in the letter. “I know the vast majority of our students have been diligent in protecting our campus since day one. We committed to do everything we could to mitigate this situation, and today, that means ending residential housing for this semester.”
Ms. Morris said in her letter that all students who tested negative for COVID-19 will be asked to sign up for a move-out time between Friday, Sept. 4, to Monday, Sept. 7. There will also be a process implemented for students who wish to remain on campus to request permission to do so.
On Aug. 30, the college begun a two-week “pause” period to curb the spread of the virus and focus on testing, but as of Thursday, 389 virus cases have been confirmed at the college since the Aug. 24 start of the semester.
On Sunday, state officials announced the college would move to remote instruction for two weeks after more than 100 students tested positive for COVID-19. A SWAT team was also deployed to the downstate campus to contain the cluster.
Five SUNY Oneonta students were also suspended before the school’s closure for hosting parties last week, which resulted in the school’s move to remove learning for two weeks. Three campus organizations were also suspended.
Also last week, after only two days of classes, 43 SUNY Plattsburgh students were suspended for similarly violating social distancing and mask wearing requirements after they gathered in a closed city park without masks. SUNY Albany suspended four students it said “blatantly ignored the safety protocols,” according to Mr. Malatras.
In the north country, students at both Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University have been sent home after violating COVID regulations set in place by the St. Lawrence County schools. As of Thursday, 11 SLU students and 14 Clarkson students were sent home to finish the semester online.
Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said any state college with 100 positive COVID-19 cases, or a number of cases equal to 5% of their population of students and faculty — whichever is less — must close and return to remote learning for two weeks.
SUNY Oneonta has a plan in place to issue full refunds for housing and prorated dining refunds to students who move out of their rooms, Ms. Morris said. Certain other broadly-charged fees will also be refunded on a prorated basis.
In order for students to prepare for move-out, Friday classes at the college are canceled.