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WCU, community colleges adjust plans ahead of COVID-19

Students at Western North Carolina’s institutions of higher learning will see impacts to their spring semester experiences as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University students will be learning remotely until further notice, and all large gatherings have been cancelled following a decision the University of North Carolina System announced yesterday.

Students are currently on spring break, and that break has been extended one week to last through Monday, March 23. The extension aims to give faculty time to transition from in-person teaching to distance learning so that students won’t have to gather for face-to-face classes. This new regimen will begin on March 23 and continue indefinitely. When there is no other option, some classes may continue to be offered in-person, but the university is encouraging every effort to reduce the need for students to gather in large groups.

“Please note that this does not mean the university will be closed. Indeed, Western Carolina University must remain open and continue to provide services to those students who remain on campus and to fulfill its day-to-day business functions,” Chancellor Kelli R. Brown wrote in a public letter.

However, all UNC institutions are restricted until further notice from hosting gatherings of 100 or more people. This means that all events associated with the chancellor’s installation March 21-27 are postponed until further notice and that the Open House scheduled for Saturday, March 21, is cancelled. Decisions about other activities such as sporting events will be announced later.

As a UNC affiliate, the N.C. Arboretum in Asheville was also affected by this guidance. The Asheville Orchid Festival, including the Members-only Preview, is cancelled. The Mountain Science Expo is postponed until further notice. Adult education students registered for classes through April will be able to cancel their registration and receive a full refund. Additionally, enrolled students who miss a class due to unexpected illness will be eligible for a refund. Wee Naturalists participants can cancel registration through March with no penalty and can receive a refund if unexpected illness causes them to miss a program.

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper, a physician who once served as director of the Centers for Disease Control, said in a video released March 12 that he has been working closely with a small group of university administrators and public health experts to help craft an informed approach to the pandemic.

“As a physician, educator, parent and former director of the CDC, I understand why the university community is anxious at this time,” he said. “Concern is warranted; panic is not. Everyone should be vigilant and adopt tried and true practices for maintaining good health. Doing so will help minimize the impact of this virus. Avoiding overreaction is also critical to our shared effort.”

In the statement, Roper recommitted to keeping UNC institutions open during this time while working to maximize flexibility in educational delivery, transitioning from in-person teaching to alternative, online instruction wherever possible.

“This is a serious situation and we are treating it as such; however, I encourage all members of the Western Carolina University community to remain calm,” Brown wrote. “We are fully aware that the steps we are taking may be disruptive to many of you. But we take these steps out of an abundance of caution, and ever mindful that the health and safety of all members of our university community are of paramount importance. Thank you for your understanding and your patience. Remember, we are all Catamounts.”

Southwestern Community College

Southwestern Community College announced at 5 p.m. Thursday that it extend spring break for one week, with classes resuming March 23 for seat-based classes.

The delay will allow faculty to transition to remote instruction, with makeup dates for most labs to be scheduled later in the semester. Online classes, clinicals and work-based learning assignments will continue as scheduled on Monday, March 16.

All SCC campuses and locations will remain open and operational during this time, though events with 50 or more people are cancelled immediately until further notice. Café 64 will be closed until further notice, but the N.C. 107 Summit the Small Business Center is holding Monday, March 16, will continue as scheduled. SCC has cancelled its March 17 job fair as a result of the virus.

Employees will be allowed only essential travel for clinicals or instructional purposes.

Housekeeping and facilities services employees have been expanding their efforts, taking advantage of the quiet days of spring break to thoroughly disinfect high-touch services, said Public Relations Director Tyler Goode.

SCC will post updates at

Haywood Community College

On March 13, HCC announced that seated curriculum classes will move to online instruction beginning Wednesday, March 18, and continuing through Friday, April 3. Spring break is April 6-10 — the university will assess and update its plan no later than April 3. 

Continuing Education, Career & College Readiness and Small Business Center classes and seminars will continue, and HCC will remain open and operational, including the Haywood Early College, library, computer labs, tutoring and testing center. 

Gatherings of 100 people or more will be postponed until further notice, including the Southeastern Wildlife Conclave slated for March 12-14, Open House planned for March 24, the Celebration of Giving and Scholarship Luncheon March 25 and Grad Day March 26. All out-of-state travel has been cancelled, and in-state travel will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Supervisors will evaluate their departments for telecommuting opportunities. Additionally, HCC is working with its custodial provider to take increased cleanliness measures on campus.

The college has established a Response Team to meet on a regular basis and provide direction and support as the pandemic unfolds. The eight-member team includes President Shelley White, Vice President of Business and Finance Karen Denney, Director of Communications Michelle Harris, Vice President of Instruction Wendy Hines, Vice President of Student Services Michael Coleman, Director of Campus Development Brek Lanning, Director of Human Resources Marsha Stines and Director of Information Technology George Rolland.

Updates will be posted at

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