University of Fort Smith moves toward distance education and operations

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FORT SMITH – The University of Arkansas-Fort Smith has decided to shift teaching and operations from in-person to remote delivery due to the continued rise of the omicron variant of covid-19 in Arkansas.

Chancellor Terisa Riley wrote in an email to the institution’s campus that the move would begin at 5 p.m. Friday with plans to return to campus on January 24. The decision was made during a review Riley called Thursday night with the university’s Covid-19 emergency management team. , which is made up of representatives from various entities on campus.

“In the state of Arkansas, cases are at an all-time high, with nearly 13,000 new cases recorded just yesterday,” Riley said. “On our own campus, we’ve had more students and staff reporting active cases this week, and even more are quarantined after being exposed to positive cases. That’s up from only 13 active cases on campus a week ago today.”

Riley stressed that this was a temporary measure. She said it would allow faculty, staff and students who tested positive to recover and those exposed to be released from quarantine while continuing the university’s educational mission online. The university will provide an update Thursday to confirm the return to on-campus work and teaching beginning Jan. 24.

Classes that must meet in person, such as those with clinical rotations, internships and classes requiring hands-on skills hours, may be exempt from the move to online learning, Riley said. Students will be notified if they will have in-person classes by Monday. The university’s IT staff has agreed to help students, faculty and staff without access to computers or the Internet at home by providing loaner Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as laptops and tablets.

Events the university originally planned to hold on campus to celebrate and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. next week have also moved to online formats. These include the annual memorial breakfast scheduled for 8 a.m. on Monday and two fireside chats scheduled for noon on Wednesday and Friday.

Riley said most campus services will also transition to remote working, except for housing, food, security and maintenance services.

“We know this pivot won’t be easy for all students, faculty, or staff, but we believe it’s the only way to ensure a safe and efficient return to campus for the remainder of the spring semester.” , Riley wrote.

Riley said events scheduled at the Bakery District Economic Development Center in downtown Fort Smith will continue as planned, but with strict covid protocols. University student-athletes can continue to train and play as scheduled due to covid-19 mandates to play in NCAA Division II.

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