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Maine’s seven community colleges and Husson University are extending their spring breaks from one week to two weeks so they can better defend themselves against the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus that has caused the deaths of thousands around the globe.
Husson University is in spring break currently and plans to resume classes on March 23 instead of March 16 as originally planned. Spring breaks for the community colleges vary, but all will have two weeks of spring break this month instead of just one.
“In the event that you traveled over spring break to a location that the CDC has identified as an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19, the University reserves the right to ask you to self-quarantine to protect the health of our community,” said Husson President Robert Clark in an email sent to Husson’s mailing list.
The extra week will allow the community colleges and Husson to adjust as many hands-on classes as possible to new methods of teaching if it becomes necessary.
“This decision balances our commitment to creating the best possible learning environment for our students, keeping our communities healthy and safe and preparing to respond nimbly to what is clearly an evolving situation,” community college system President David Daigler said in a statement.
All of Maine’s community colleges are taking this same action on a staggered timetable, based upon their scheduled spring break.
Community college campuses in South Portland, Fairfield and Wells are on spring break this week, and will extend their break through the week of March 16.
The Auburn campus has its regular break the week of March 16, and will extend it to include the week of March 23.
The Bangor, Presque Isle and Calais campuses have their usual break the week of March 30th but will go on break one week early, on March 23, and then have a second week off from March 30 through April 3.
“We aren’t yet in a position where we must move classes to an alternative form of learning, but we must be prepared to do so if it becomes necessary,” Daigler said.
The vast majority of community college students are Maine residents and commute to campus from nearby communities.
Five of the seven campuses have dorms, but only 8 percent of students live in the dorms. There are still students in the dorms — even for the campuses that are on spring break currently — and the community college system does not plan to ask those students to leave.
Based upon the current situation, the colleges believe the prudent course of action is to continue normal operations as much as possible.
“This is a time of uncertainty, but we are focused on providing a safe and welcoming environment for our students, faculty and staff,” Daigler said.
Two-thirds of the community college programming is in the trades and technology fields such as construction, precision manufacturing and health care, which require considerable hands-on instruction. Each campus will come up with their own plan for continuing instruction over the extended spring break.
Individual campus leaders will make decisions about campus events and gatherings.
“A lot of our trade programs are hands-on,” Gallagher said. “Each teacher will look at their own program and figure out what are other ways to teach what they teach, if it comes to that.”
If any campus has to close its residential facilities, it will evaluate student requests to remain on campus and if approved, will find a place for them to stay.
Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease