University officials answer student questions about coronavirus

Brooke Pelletier and Alexa Nogueira—

Updated on March 24, 2020 at 11:19 a.m.

With the coronavirus sweeping the world, the future for students at Fitchburg State seems uncertain. Will students be refunded for housing and meal plans? How do online classes work for students whose courses are hands-on? Will seniors graduate on time?

The Point asked various University officials these and other questions. At the time of this writing, not all questions have received a response. This article will be updated as more questions are answered. 

Student jobs and refunds

All work study students will hear from their supervisor shortly if they have not already, said Director of Student Accounts Heather Ruland. Ruland encourages students to contact their supervisor with any questions or concerns, such as how to pay their tuition and whether or not they will be compensated for their lost hours and wages.

Ruland did not have an answer at this time as to whether or not students will be refunded for their housing and meal plans.

“Administration is working diligently on making sure first that our community is safe and healthy and reviewing next steps as information becomes available. Administration will keep our students and families informed as decisions are made,” Ruland said in a statement to The Point.

Internships

Many students at the university have received internships from the Crocker Center for Civic Engagement in the past. However, with all the cancellations and postponing of many events, students may be wondering what they will do about these internships. David Weiss, Coordinator of the Crocker Center, explained that “while the university has indicated that internships can go on at this time as scheduled, it is up to each intern and internship site supervisor (along with faculty, if applicable) to determine if the internship is still viable under these unprecedented times.” Essentially, these situations will be determined by a case-by-case basis, and will rely on the discretion of the student and the supervisor. To date, Weiss said that he is “aware of six internships that have been ‘suspended’ or put ‘on hold’ until at least April 7 at which time they will be re-evaluated for continuation.”

In terms of those students who may have had an internship lined up, Weiss explained that “Fitchburg State, including the Crocker Center and faculty, will do everything possible to provide other accommodations for them. An example of this might be an independent research project or research paper for the same number of credit hours for which the student was scheduled in their internship.”

For those students who are seniors or who required an internship to graduate that has now been affected, Weiss was persistent that “from the Crocker Center’s perspective, the bottom line is that no student—senior or otherwise—should be “punished” or suffer undue consequences because of these truly extenuating circumstances. Everything reasonably possible will be done to assist seniors to graduate on time and as planned.” 

Healthcare

According to Meghan McDonough, who is an Account Manager for University Health Plans, all students enrolled in the Fitchburg State Student Health Insurance Plan have access to care and coverage for COVID-19.

In a statement to The Point, McDonough wrote that that coverage includes,

  • “Covering the full cost of diagnostic tests for COVID-19 for all fully insured members who meet CDC guidelines for testing. Members in fully insured plans will face no co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible for these tests. Self-funded employer groups will have the option of similarly waiving the cost share for these tests.
  • Waiving co-payments for medically necessary COVID-19 treatment at doctor’s offices, emergency rooms and urgent care centers. Any medically necessary treatment for coronavirus is covered under a member’s health plan within the United States or internationally.
  • Removing any administrative barriers, such as prior authorizations and referrals, for medically appropriate care for COVID-19.
  • Waiving co-pays, co-insurance, or deductibles for members with the Blue Cross telehealth benefit for the screening, evaluation, diagnosis, and/or suggested treatment of COVID-19 . Telehealth offers convenience (within the United States) as well as the opportunity to avoid potential exposure to contagion. We will reach out to any employer customers without the benefit to ensure they know this option is available as well. Our 24/7 nurse hotline (888-247-2583) also is available free to all members and offers a safe and convenient clinical resource for minor ailments or questions.
  • Increasing access to prescription medications by lifting limits on early refills of prescription medication allowing members to obtain one additional fill of the existing prescription. We will ensure formulary flexibility if there are shortages or access issues.”

All Blue Cross Blue Shield updates involving the coronavirus can be found at https://home.bluecrossma.com/coronavirus#.

Graduation and the future of the semester

“The decision to extend the break for students was made to allow time for the transition to remote instruction. Seniors should expect to finish their studies on time,” said Director of Public Relations Matthew Bruun in a statement to The Point. Bruun added, “There are no plans to extend the semester.”

Housing

Students were informed on Tuesday, March 17 that the rest of the spring semester would be occurring online due to the spread of coronavirus. Later that day, on-campus residents were informed that they would have scheduled times to move the rest of their things out, just four days after they had been told to get the things they needed for up to three weeks. 

Director of Housing Christopher Medley addressed students in this email on Tuesday, explaining that they have “created a plan to coordinate your on-campus move out.” This plan would span over three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 20 through 22, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Those students who previously resided in Aubuchon Hall or Russell Towers would have to log into their Web4 and go to their THD4-Self Service page and sign up for a specific time slot, in order to reduce the amount of students going in at one time. 

In the same email, Medley also addressed those students who had a petition to stay on campus. These students would still be approved to stay, “provided [their] reason for being in Fitchburg remains in effect.”

When faced with specific questions regarding housing and the potential for a refund, Medley referred The Point to Fitchburg State’s coronavirus website, where there is a drop-down menu for students’ frequently asked questions. In regards to a refund, the website explains that “This is a topic of discussion both on our campus and with the State University system. More information is forthcoming as decisions are made.”

The website can be reached at the following for any new updates regarding the situation and instructions for students and faculty moving forward: http://fitchburgstate.edu/coronavirus

Advising and Registration

Students were sent an email providing many different online resources that are available to them in this time of need. In this email, Provost Alberto Cardelle and Vice President for Student Affairs Laura Bayless addressed the issue of advising and course registration for the Fall 2020 semester. While advising was supposed to begin this coming Monday, March 23, changes will be occurring regarding this process. They addressed that “The advising and registration period for summer and fall courses has been extended, so for now focus on getting started with your remote courses. More information on advising and registration will be sent later next week.”

Dining and Chartwells

At this time, some students are allowed to remain on campus with a petition. In this time where there is hardly a soul on campus, one may wonder what might be happening in the once vibrant and loud Holmes Dining Hall. The Point reached out to Jeff McVoy Director of Dining Services at the dining hall. He stressed that “First and foremost, the safety and wellbeing of our students, the University faculty and staff, as well as our own staff and the community we work in are our first priority during this ongoing crisis.”

He also expressed that due to the extreme nature of the coronavirus situation, “we at Chartwells are working directly with the University and the Housing Department to provide a very limited meal service upon their direction.  Any meal service we may provide per their direction is being carefully planned and monitored to ensure we are adhering to the guidelines being put in place by the CDC, Massachusetts DPH and the Governor’s Office.”

Due to the lack of students and the need for food that they would be seeing, one might wonder if this would affect Holmes at all going forward. However, McVoy explained that “We believe very strongly that we have the plans and processes in place to work through this crisis, and when the time comes we will be able to operate as normal as we are allowed and directed to by the University, the CDC, Massachusetts DPH and the Governor’s Office.”

Online Learning

With the remainder of the semester being taught remotely, many students raised concerns regarding the accessibility and practicality of online classes.

Director of Digital Learning Nicole Chelonis said in an email, “Our online classes are accessible. Our Disability Services office works with Digital Learning and the faculty to ensure that all course content meets the needs of any student with a documented accommodation request. In addition, we encourage faculty to follow best practices in online course content creation even when they don’t have a student with an accommodation in their class.” Chelonis added that the Tutor Center is offering remote tutoring services for the remainder of the semester.

Chelonis also said that courses that are hands-on will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Students who take hands-on classes should expect to hear from their professors regarding information about how the remainder of the course will be taught. “In more challenging cases, the administration is working with faculty to investigate alternatives,” she said.

“Our administration is currently gathering data about the challenges facing our students during this unprecedented situation. Our focus is on creating equitable access to student learning and we are exploring options that might best meet our students’ needs. We hope to have more information about available options over the next week as we continue to hear from our affected students,” Chelonis said.

If you have a question that you would like The Point to ask the University regarding COVID-19, email thepointfsu@gmail.com to get in touch with our newsroom, or reach out to us via Instagram or Twitter (@thepointfsu). 

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