Okla. University shifting fully to online classes as holidays approach

By Michael Kinney

The University of Oklahoma has decided to cut its school year short. Well, at least the parts that have do with on-campus education.

OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. sent an email to parents and students on Oct. 6 informing them that all in-person classes will end in November as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19.

“Instruction for Norman campus-based programs will move entirely online following Thanksgiving break through the end of the fall 2020 semester, with lectures and final exams to be offered online,” Harroz said in the statement. “This covers the week of regular instruction following the holiday, the finals preparation week that follows, and the week of final exams. Norman campus programs that are delivered at OU-Tulsa are also included in this calendar change. All university facilities, including housing and library services, as well as research operations, will remain open.”

Harroz relayed the move to online is more preventive than anything else. With many students leaving for Thanksgiving, the school wants to prevent students from bringing the COVID-19 virus back to the campus.

“We know a large portion of our residential students will return home for the Thanksgiving holiday – many to locations that do not have strict masking regulations like we do in Norman and at OU,” Harroz said. “By moving instruction online and providing the option for students to return home and stay there after Thanksgiving, we will reduce the infection risks associated with travel and subsequently, bringing it back to campus.”

The university is currently employing more of a hybrid system where students have both in-person and online classes.

From Sept. 3-Oct. 16, the university says 108 COVID-19 tests came back positive for the virus.

According to OU’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler, the university and the city of Norman have benefited from strong mask mandates, but he foresees possible issues with the contagious virus once they are home. 

“We actually see very low transmission of the virus in Norman at this time since Norman has had a mask mandate for a long time,” Bratzler said during the weekly OU Medicine livestream. “All of us expect family gatherings that might actually result in an increased number of cases.”

With end of semester instruction and final exams taking place during those weeks, Harroz also said that keeping the students at home will limit their disruptions, compared to being on campus.

“As the seasons change, the risk of co-infection with influenza will increase – a combined impact that could be detrimental to the surrounding community,” Harroz said. “By taking these steps, we can help protect the overall health of the greater Norman area from potential issues that could be exacerbated by the traditional flu season.”

The University of Oklahoma campus

Oklahoma is not alone in moving to predominately or full tome virtual online classes. Other universities around the country have made the same decision earlier in the school semester.

While in-person classes will be shut down, students are still able to live on campus and while continuing their online classwork. However, parents have expressed frustration on social media over having to pay for a full semester of housing when the university knew there was a chance they would be sending students home early.

Harroz’s announcement came two days after the university confirmed the death of a 19-year-old University of Oklahoma student. The question of whether the death was due to COVID-19 was put to school officials.

“University administration and medical professionals have consulted with the family of the deceased and have verified that there is no public health risk related to the OU community member’s death,” a university statement read. “Under these circumstances, it is not the place of the university to speculate on or share personal health information of a community member unless approved to do so by the family.”

Michael Kinney is a Content Provider with Michael Kinney Media

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