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UNI extends online classes, cancels commencement as regents declare emergency

UNI extends online classes, cancels commencement as regents declare emergency

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series

CEDAR FALLS — Virtual instruction starting Monday at the University of Northern Iowa will continue through the spring and summer, President Mark Nook announced Wednesday.

An email from Nook’s office sent to the UNI community also noted spring commencement ceremonies will be canceled. The changes, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, are being made “in adherence to the continued guidance from the Iowa Board of Regents as well as state and national officials regarding protecting public health,” said the email.

In addition, the university is reducing the number of students in the dorms to only those who have no other housing options. UNI public relations manager Steve Schmadeke said that is being done “in an effort to maximize social distancing precautions.” He said “a very small number” of students will remain in the dorms, but didn’t have information on who they would be or exactly how many would be included.

Iowa and Iowa State universities made a similar announcement that spring commencement ceremonies are canceled, a limited amount of students will be able to live in the dorms and all courses will be online this spring. Those classes will get underway a week later, on March 30, at the University of Iowa.

Before Nook’s email, UNI had only said classes were expected to remain online through at least April 3.

The changes closely followed a statement by Board of Regents President Mike Richards declaring a state of emergency for the universities and other institutions under their jurisdiction. The board met by telephone Tuesday to add an emergency authorizations section to its policy manual.

In the statement, Richards said “there are current circumstances that pose an imminent threat to the health and safety of persons or property at our institutions.”

The declaration allows virtual instruction, waiving “any applicable Board of Regents policy or administrative rule regarding academic program changes” that would otherwise prohibit it.

Richards also waived rules related to employee leave and vacation, authorizing institutions to permit employees the use of up to an additional 80 paid sick leave hours.

On leave and vacation policies, the declaration waived limitations on the hours of accrued sick leave an employee can use for care of “an employee’s immediate family member,” according to the statement. Provisions on family leave that keep employees from using it to care for their children due to closures of kindergarten through 12th-grade schools or child-care centers were also waived. Other policies were waived if they prohibit employees from donating or receiving vacation time to be used as sick leave for any purpose “directly related to COVID-19.”

“As I issue this state of emergency, the board recognizes that each of our institutions is unique,” said Richards. “The board is working with each institution to make individual decisions of how to implement any changes that work best for their campus.”

The email from Nook’s office noted the student health clinic and counseling center will move to telehealth appointments starting Monday. It also noted cancellation of commencement ceremonies will not impact students’ ability to graduate this spring. Those graduates will be encouraged to participate in fall commencement.

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Staff Writer

After 18-plus years reporting on local education, I’ve graduated to covering the city of Cedar Falls. Family and church commitments keep me busy outside of work along with lots of biking, rowing and skiing – pretty good for a guy with fake hips.

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