Georgia Tech students wonder: Should they stay, or should they go?

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After Tech told students classes would move online for the rest of the year, University System of Georgia stepped in

Georgia Tech officials devoted a lot of this weekend to clarifying their statements on whether the school was moving to online classes for the rest of the semester and advising students to sign out of their dorms.

The conflicting information led to uncertainty and confusion -- and a lot of memes from Tech students taking aim at President Ángel Cabrera, including this one from GT Memes for Buzzed Teens.

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“We are aware there has been confusion and frustration as a result of Georgia Tech’s communication of plans for class and campus changes due to COVID-19 concerns,” said Renee Kopkowski , vice president for Institute Communications, Sunday evening.  “We certainly understand why people feel this way and acknowledge and apologize for the confusion we have caused by communicating incorrect information last week.”

The University System of Georgia, which oversees the public campuses including Tech, announced Thursday morning that public colleges were not suspending campus classes and moving instruction online, as was happening in many other states.

Then, a few hours later, following the governor’s sobering press conference on the rapid spread of the virus in Georgia, the University System of Georgia reversed itself and announced all campuses would halt face-to-face classes and evaluate going to online classes. USG urged students to leave dorms for the time being.

But, on Friday, Tech went beyond that USG statement, sending an email to students saying it would not resume in-person classes this semester but rely on virtual learning. And students could move out of their dorms and get a rebate.

That appeared straightforward enough.

Except when I called the University System of Georgia to see if other campuses were also ruling out a return to on-the-ground classes, the spokesman said Tech got something wrong and new information would be forthcoming.

"Tech sent out inaccurate information to students and its community, and it is being corrected now," said USG spokesman Aaron Diamant that afternoon.

Indeed, the Tech coronavirus information page went blank for more than four hours, with a “Pardon the interruption” message.

However, in the meantime, Tech seniors were sadly packing up their rooms to go home for what was to be spring break but now appeared to be for good. And parents were hastily trying to hire movers to transport their kids’ stuff to storage and figure out logistics.

“We have provided updated FAQs and are using that information to respond to the questions we are receiving from students and parents. We are proactively communicating with those most affected directly by phone, email and direct responses on social media,” Kopkowski said.

The confusion began with information students received early Friday from Georgia Tech Housing and Residence Life:

As President Cabrera announced yesterday, we will move to distance learning on Monday, March 30, with a trial week beginning on Monday, March 23, and we will operate in a distance format through the end of the semester. Campus remains open during this time.

If you would like to move out of campus housing now or by Tuesday, March 31, we will accommodate that move with express checkout and will reimburse you the prorated amount you've paid for housing… Residents who choose to remain on-campus will be allowed to stay on campus for the duration of their current lease agreement. You may be reassigned to a different building and/or room after March 31 to consolidate residents so that we can better serve a reduced population.

Then, in an email sent at 9:20 Friday night, President Ángel Cabrera walked back that earlier missive to students:

To the Georgia Tech Community:

To clarify my former statements, while we will continue to work hard to test our business continuity plans and distance instruction capabilities, further assessment will be needed to determine if distance learning will be necessary.

I apologize for the confusion that my earlier guidance may have caused. We will be updating our FAQs as the situation continues to evolve. Check back here for updated guidance.

Ángel Cabrera

President

Cabrera directed Tech students to the USG policy statement, which states:

Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, all University System of Georgia institutions will temporarily suspend instruction for two weeks to allow time for USG institutions to test their business continuity plans and online instruction modules and for state officials to continue to assess the current situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) in Georgia.

Students who are currently on spring break are strongly encouraged not to return to campus. Students on campus are asked to depart campus by close of business Friday, March 13, 2020, and to remain away from campus until March 29, 2020. At this time, students are not being asked to move out of their dorms for the remainder of the semester. For students who are unable to leave campus, institutions have been asked to develop plans to safely accommodate those students on campus.

Given the spread of the virus in Georgia, colleges may well stay with online classes through the end of the semester. But USG appears to want that decision to be made system-wide.

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