For UNC Wilmington students, longer classes will help make up time lost to Florence

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UNC Wilmington students will have slightly extended time in all their classes when they head back to campus next week following the university’s four-week closure from Hurricane Florence.

On Tuesday, the UNC Board of Governors approved a waiver of 150 to 200 minutes of lost class time. The university is making up about 450 to 500 minutes in other ways, including adding 5 minutes onto classes and canceling fall break and a pre-exam reading day.

The university’s holiday breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas will remain intact, said Chancellor Zito Sartarelli. The winter graduation is still on for Dec. 15.

“The principle we’ve used for this is to preserve as much normalcy to the program as possible, not to extend the semester later in December,” he said, adding that extending the semester close to Christmas would not be well accepted by students.

Other lost time will be made up by faculty adding online assignments, readings and face-to-face meetings. Faculty were directed to rewrite their syllabi to reflect the changes in schedule.

Even with all the changes, students won’t be able to make up all the time, which required the action from the UNC system board. The waiver was needed to comply with policies of UNC, the U.S. Department of Education and the university’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The federal government has regulations about class time for financial aid eligibility.

The UNC board’s action will request waivers from the federal government and the accrediting body.

In a memo to the board, UNC system Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly van Noort said the request was well within parameters of waivers from previous natural disasters elsewhere.

“We have learned through experiences with Hurricanes Katrina, Floyd, Harvey, Irma and Maria, that student success and retention during times of disaster are predicated on providing an opportunity for students to re-enter and continue coursework as soon as possible and in a manageable way,” van Noort’s memo said. “And that institutions must take into account the extra time needed to catch up and the burden upon already stressed students.”

The plan means UNCW students would make up about two-thirds of the lost time.

Some students had complained that they did not have access to the university’s online educational resources for much of the time off and therefore could not work on their own.

“We have a lot of time to make up, certainly, but you have my personal assurance that the integrity of your academic experience will not be compromised,” UNCW Provost Marilyn Sheerer wrote in an email to students.

On Sept. 22, Sheerer had emailed faculty to remind them that the campus was closed and that they should not direct students to complete work online even though the platform, Blackboard, was up and running.

“This means that, despite the fact that Blackboard has now been restored, students should not be receiving new assignments,” Sheerer wrote. “If you’ve inadvertently misstepped on this front, please reach out to your students to clarify.”

The UNCW campus sustained substantial damage during Florence. Trees were down and buildings were flooded, including two dorms and a science building that had significant water damage. The situation was complicated by power outages and road closures in and around Wilmington after the storm.

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The university worked with 80 to 100 students whose off-campus apartments are still out of commission. Students were matched up with other rental opportunities in the community, Sartarelli said.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559; @janestancill