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Governor's plan to move students online prompts students to demand money back

Farmingdale State College announced canceling classes through the

Farmingdale State College announced canceling classes through the end of the week due to coronavirus concerns. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on state college and university campuses, said Wednesday all in-person classes will move online, leaving some students demanding refunds from their schools.

Cuomo said SUNY and CUNY campuses will continue their studies online through the end of the spring semester, starting March 19.

Nassau Community College, which this week announced its “first confirmed positive association with the virus,” has suspended in-person classes through Friday, college president Jermaine Williams said.

State colleges and universities, some in the middle of, or preparing for, spring break, issued notices informing their students of Cuomo’s announcement.

The governor's office said it's trying to "reduce the congregation of large numbers of people in classroom settings" and allow students to return home, if they want to. But some students said they want their money back for tuition if they won’t be getting face time with their professors, as well as for housing if they choose to return home.

“A lot of us want our money back because we paid thousands of dollars for a certain level of education, but we don’t want to get sick, either,” said Cristina Bergara, a student at Stony Brook University’s main campus studying psychology.

Bergara, 21, of Ossining in Westchester County, participated in a protest that drew dozens outside Stony Brook's administration building Wednesday before Cuomo’s announcement. Students were chanting “send us home” and “give us our money back,” she said.

“I pay to use campus facilities, to live here, to get taught on campus, not for online courses,” Bergara said.

Stony Brook said in a statement that “all classes and finals will meet remotely at their regularly scheduled times” and most nonclassroom events and large gatherings will be canceled through at least March 31.

Danielle Winnegar, another Stony Brook student who attended the protest, said only about 50 students showed up this week to one of her lecture classes that normally sees an attendance of nearly 300.

“People are clearly scared to show up,” said Winnegar, 21, a political science major. Winnegar, who commutes to campus from Northport, also demanded a refund for classes going online.

“They’re telling people there won’t be any more in-person classes, yet they’re not going to give us our money back even though that’s not what I paid for or would have ever chosen to take,” Winnegar said.

Some campuses immediately started canceling classes, including Farmingdale State College, which canceled classes through the end of the week.

“Faculty are working to develop these continuity-of-education plans, and additional communication with more detail for students, faculty and staff is forthcoming,” college president John Nader said in a statement.

Students outside the campus student center Wednesday had mixed feelings about the change.

“I feel like it shouldn’t even be the governor’s decision to do that, and just leave it up to the individual colleges to decide,” said Nikolas Photos, 20, a South Setauket commuter studying criminal justice. “I feel like having classes go online will be more of a hassle and there are a lot of students who may not even have any access to computers at home.”

Daniel Stark, 19, of West Babylon, said he felt the situation was getting “scary” but was trying not to worry.

“I was enjoying my classes a lot, but I kind of support the decision because of how serious the situation is getting and the increasing possibility of the virus spreading,” said Stark, a psychology major.

Emily Stock, 31, of Ronkonkoma, also said she supported the measure, though she was concerned it would affect her professor’s office hours.

“I like having personal interaction with my professors, and if I have any questions, I know I can go to their office hours. But now that seems like it’s in question if I’ll be able to do that,” said Stock, who studies computer systems.

Cuomo said some classes and activities, such as on-site labs, may still be held on campuses, but “those are the exceptions” and the campuses will in effect be closed.

SUNY Old Westbury canceled all face-to-face classes for the remainder of the week. The college is finalizing plans to move to “alternate modes of instructional delivery” starting March 23, after spring break, according to the school’s website.

Students who visited the Old Westbury campus center had mixed views of Cuomo’s announcement, their reactions ranging from elation to disappointment.

“I’m excited about it because I don’t have to come here,” said Kimoine DaCosta, 20, a business major and sophomore who commutes to the campus from Laurelton in Queens.

She said that she finds traditional in-class instruction “boring" and welcomes the shift because a good chunk of her work is done online already.

But for Virag Kothari, 24, a graduate student in data analytics who lives in Hicksville, the change is not welcome.

“It can be done remotely, but I like in-person classes,” Kothari said, adding that he believes it's “a good policy” to limit the spread of coronavirus. “I’m not upset — but I am not pleased as well.”

Psychology major Iqra Ahmed, 20, of Brooklyn said she worried about the potentially negative effect of online instruction on grades, adding that some students do poorly without real-time interaction with professors.

"I know I learn better when I’m in class while the professor is teaching," Ahmed said. "I feel like this is going to cause a whole mess.”

Mia Nicole, 21, a psychology major who lives on campus, also predicts a tougher semester for many students. She's currently taking a history of psychology course that's taught primarily online and is more difficult than her in-person courses.

“For certain classes, it is way better to have a teacher in front of you explaining things instead of just kind of teaching it to yourself online,” Nicole said.

With Zachary R. Dowdy

CLOSINGS/CANCELLATIONS

  • SAT testing scheduled for this weekend at three Long Island locations has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Testing scheduled for Saturday at Westbury High School and Journey Prep School in Farmingdale, and for Sunday at Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, is canceled. Students who were planning to take the SAT at Journey Prep should report to Amityville Memorial High School. There is no makeup exam for students planning to take the SAT at Westbury High School or Hebrew Academy, but officials with The College Board, which administers the test, were working to arrange makeup dates and will contact students when the makeup dates are scheduled.
  • The Plainview-Old Bethpage school district announced late Wednesday that schools would continue to be closed Thursday, the third day in a row since a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington canceled classes Thursday after the grandfather of one student “has tested positive for coronavirus, and has been hospitalized,” said a letter addressed to “Saint Anthony’s Family” by Brother David Migliorino, the school principal. “Additionally, one of our students has displayed symptoms, and has been tested for coronavirus,” though the results are pending, the letter said. The school may have to consider virtual learning, he said, and more information would be disseminated over the weekend.

SOURCE: Newsday reporting

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