NC School of Science and Math faculty asks for remote classes

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham.

News & Observer file photo

Faculty at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, a residential high school in the UNC System, asked that the school be allowed to switch to all-remote learning in a letter sent Wednesday to their chancellor, the UNC System president and the chair of the UNC Board of Governors.

The letter, sent by the NCSSM’s faculty senate, notes the importance of in-person teaching and learning, then points to the decision announced Monday by UNC Chapel Hill to move all undergraduate instruction online after the confirmation of at least four clusters of COVID-19 infections in campus and off-campus housing.

The letter says that the faculty “believes that despite the time, energy and money invested by NCSSM to create a safe environment, the risks posed by the virus are still too great to bring students, faculty, and staff to campus even in a low-density model of face-to-face instruction.”

As a result, it says, the faculty “requests that all NCSSM courses move to fully remote instruction and faculty be given time to adjust curriculum and lesson plans to the new medium.”

The resolution also asks that all UNC System campuses be given the autonomy to determine the best response to the pandemic for their situation.

The UNC System did not immediately respond to the faculty’s missive.

There are 17 institutions in the UNC System, including the School of Science and Mathematics. The high school trains academically talented students to become leaders in science, technology, engineering and math.

The school has said that it would reduce the density of occupants in its six residence halls in order to reopen for the Fall semester.

In an announcement, the school said it was using a phased approach to reopening. Employees came back in July and students returning over the period from from Aug. 16 to Aug. 23, meaning not all of the students enrolled have arrived on campus.

The school said it would have protocols for screening and testing for COVID-19, and would follow all guidelines for preventing the spread of illness.

The school has about 680 students in its residential program from across North Carolina.

Chauncey Sumpter Jr. helps move his sister, Charisma Sumpter, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill from Raleigh, from her room at Hinton James residence hall in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, August 18, 2020. Ethan Hyman

Following UNC Chapel Hill’s switch to online classes this week, most students will have to move off campus. International students, student athletes and students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to reliable internet service can remain.

On Tuesday, N.C. State reported its first COVID-19 cluster in a campus-wide alert. A cluster of cases was found in an off-campus house on the 2700 block of Clark Avenue in Raleigh, where a party had been held earlier this month, the school reported. Students there are so far continuing with in-person classes.

Meanwhile, more than 70% of the state’s 1.5 million K-12 public school students started their school year with online classes this week, instead of getting in-person instruction. Remote instruction for those public school students will last for two months in many schools, and potentially longer, if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t lessen.

More clusters expected involving UNC students

Orange County’s health director is expecting to see more cases and more clusters, Carrboro Fire Chief Dave Schmidt told the Town Council in a report Tuesday. The county is averaging 17 new cases a day this week, up a total of 23% over the last three weeks.

About 125 UNC students went to the hospital with COVID symptoms on Friday, he said, and more were admitted over the weekend.

“At this point, no one is certain whether the UNC positive cases are impacting our numbers or not,” Schmidt said, in part because some students have been tested in Durham and other positive tests for students may have been reported to their home counties.

The state is expected to share positive student results sent to other counties with Orange County, health officials have said. That could take up to a week, they said.

“There is also a recognition that there could potentially be some duplicates in the number of cases reported for any UNC students who are truly Orange County residents,” Schmidt said, “so we’re going to be fighting through that data as we go along.”

UNC officials also told local leaders and staff at their weekly meeting Tuesday that about 500 students had begun checking out of UNC dorms that morning.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.

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