Education World Reacts to Coronavirus: The Latest Developments

Mar 05, 2020

As of early March, the COVID-19 coronavirus has put about 300 million students out of school around the world, as communities and whole countries try to contain its spread. How are K-12 schools and higher-ed institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere coping? And how is learning impacted?

We’re keeping an eye on the situation with regular updates. Check out our coverage below and look for more in the coming weeks.

As a side note: We’ve been fielding a lot of reader mail on the topic, and we’d love to hear more from you—particularly if you’re a science teacher covering the subject in class, or are working with consultants to shore up your digital learning plans. Or ping us if you simply have ideas for what you’d like to learn more about. Drop me a note at stephen@edsurge.com, or on Twitter @EdSurge or @stephenoonoo.

—Stephen Noonoo, K-12 Editor

Keeping Up With School Closures

As the rate of school closures across K-12 and higher education accelerates, we recommend checking out the following resources for the latest and most exhaustive tallies.

Education Week is maintaining a map of K-12 school closures here.

Bryan Alexander has a spreadsheet of closures announced by colleges and universities.

Anne Marie Gruber has a spreadsheet of academic conference cancellations.

Updates (all times Pacific)

March 25, 2:55 p.m. Federal stimulus package would allocate billions to state education agencies, schools and colleges

The U.S. Senate is considering a $2 trillion spending bill intended to help American individuals and businesses weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the financial support is a proposal that would allocate billions of dollars to an “Education Stabilization Fund.”

The fund would allow state governors and education agencies to apply for emergency relief grants for a variety of purposes on behalf of public and non-public elementary and secondary schools. These include buying sanitation supplies; planning for remote learning in case of long-term school closures; buying education technology; providing mental health care; and addressing the needs of students who are low-income or racial minorities, have disabilities, or lack housing.

The proposed law would also give money to colleges, with those that serve more Pell Grant recipients receiving more funding. With a few exceptions, the higher-ed grants could cover “any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to coronavirus.” The bill would require that proportion of the money go to provide emergency financial aid to students for expenses related to campus disruptions.

Special funding would be available for tribal colleges and universities, Gallaudet University, which serves students who are deaf and hard of hearing, and Howard University, a historically black college.

The bill authors didn’t forget educators, school staff and administrators. The proposed law says that states, education agencies and colleges that receive money from the Education Stabilization Fund “shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the stimulus package would also suspend the payment of student loans through September 30. —Rebecca Koenig


March 20, 7:15 p.m. K-12 state testing requirement waived; AP tests go online

In a notice issued today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that “upon a proper request, the Department will grant a waiver to any state that is unable to assess its students due to the ongoing national emergency, providing relief from federally mandated testing requirements for this school year.”

Prior to the announcement from the federal government, states including California, Florida and Pennsylvania had already ordered a halt to standardized tests, which generally take place in the spring.

In other testing news, The College Board announced that it will offer a shorter version of its Advanced Placement exams online, which will take 45 minutes instead of the usual 2- to 3 hours. These tests will cover materials that AP classes are expected to have covered through early March, and the questions will be free-response (not multiple choice). They can be taken on a computer, tablet or smartphone; there is also an option to take and submit a photo of handwritten work. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 17, 3:05 p.m. U.S. government issues visa accommodations for international students.

International students who study in the U.S. typically face visa restrictions limiting the number of credits they can earn through online courses. With colleges shifting their spring courses online due to COVID-19, the federal government’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program has made new allowances, in effect only “for the duration of the emergency.”

If an international student attends an institution that closes temporarily and does not have alternative education arrangements, the student should remain in “active” visa status as long as he or she plans to resume study when classes are available again, the new guidance says.

And under the new allowances, international students in the U.S. attending an institution that moves to temporary online education can participate in distance learning and may temporarily count online courses toward his or her full course of study, even if he or she has left the U.S.

Colleges are responsible for notifying the government of their closures or shifts to online instruction within 10 business days. The guidance is subject to change. — Rebecca Koenig (@becky_koenig)


March 15, 4:40 p.m. Twenty-six states now set to close public schools, along with New York City.

Public schools in 26 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. will be closed to combat the spread of coronavirus. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that its public school system, the largest district in the nation serving 1.1 million students, will also begin to close. The move comes after growing concerns from teachers and parents that city officials did not make such a call earlier. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 13, 11:35 a.m. California, Rhode Island Edtech Conferences Called Off

As city and state officials enforce more wide-reaching measures to limit public gatherings, more education conferences have called off their face-to-face events to comply with the orders.

The Association of Test Publishers, a membership organization of assessment providers, has called off its in-person conference, scheduled for March 29 - April 1 in San Diego. Organizers say they still plan on holding the event virtually on the same dates.

Personalization 2020, an education technology conference organized by the nonprofit Highlander Institute, has been cancelled. Originally scheduled for April 2-4, 2020 in Providence, R.I., the annual conference historically received more than 1,000 teachers, school and district leaders. This year, there were registered attendees from 25 states and two countries, according to the cancellation notice from organizers. They are considering a virtual program.

NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit philanthropy that supports schools, education leaders and companies, has also called off its annual summit, which was set to take place in Oakland, Calif. on May 6-7. The event has attracted more than 1,200 attendees in recent years. Organizers say they have “decided not to postpone the gathering for a later date in 2020.” — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 13, 10:50 p.m. Zoom offers videoconference tool to K-12 schools for free.

Zoom will temporarily allow K-12 schools affected by the COVID-19 disease to use its videoconferencing software for free.

The company has launched a website for K-12 schools where school officials can fill out their information. After being verified, Zoom will remove the 40-minute limit that is normally enforced for Basic accounts. Forbes reports that the offer is currently available for schools in Austria, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, South Korea and the United States. —Wade Tyler Millward (@WadeMillward)


March 12, 2:45 p.m. Ohio, Maryland close all schools across the state; Washington state does so for three counties.

In a dramatic escalation in the scale of school closures, Ohio and Maryland became the first to shut down all K-12 schools across their states, reports USA Today.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said the order will be in effect for three weeks, from March 16 through April 13. It applies to public and private schools. In Maryland, State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon announced that all public schools will be closed through March 27.

In Washington, Governor Jay Inslee has ordered that public and private schools in King, Snohomish and Pierce must be closed by March 17, and through April 24. According to The Seattle Times, this will impact more than 563,000 students.

When asked during the press conference, Inslee acknowledged the limitations of online learning “given the disparity of access to the internet.” (h/t Frank Catalano)

In Europe, 12 countries have closed all their schools, and another nine have partially done so, according to The Guardian.

As the scale and frequency of school closures escalates, questions abound over how government officials will serve children who qualify for free or reduced lunch, and those who are housing insecure. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 12, 1:45 p.m. Remaining major education technology conferences scheduled for March are going virtual.

The spring conference of Computer-Using Educators (CUE), a nonprofit membership association focused on the use of technology in education, will be held virtually. It was originally scheduled to take place on March 19-21 in Palm Springs, Calif.

The annual conference for the Consortium of School Networking, an association of K-12 technology leaders, has also been postponed. Originally scheduled for March 16-18 in Washington, D.C., it will now be held online on May 19-21. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 11, 2 p.m. Campus closures prompt refund requests

With colleges shuttering their campuses left and right and pushing classes online, students and parents want to know: Will we get refunds?

The case for at least partial restitution seems easiest to make regarding room and board fees and pre-paid dining hall plans, since students can’t take advantage of those services once they’ve been kicked off the quad.

Less clear is whether college students should expect tuition reimbursement for classes they signed up to take in person that will now only be available via digital delivery systems. Many students have taken to social media to complain that they don’t want to pay for the experience of taking hastily assembled online courses. Yet it’s hard to imagine colleges offering those students class credit for free.

One sharp-eyed student Tweeter noticed that Yale’s financial regulations contain language about making “arrangements for appropriate refunds” in “the unlikely event that public health or other significant safety or security concerns cause the University temporarily to suspend University programs and operations.”

Harvard and Amherst colleges plan to prorate room and board charges to accommodate the days that students are required to remain off campus, reports Bloomberg News.

“The calculations that colleges have to do when determining refund policies are complex,” Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told Bloomberg. “What some schools can afford to do will be very different from other schools.” — Rebecca Koenig (@becky_koenig)


March 10, 3:30 p.m. ASU GSV Summit, one of the biggest U.S. edtech industry gatherings, reschedules conference to fall.

Organizers of the ASU GSV Summit, one of the most popular stops for the education business and investment community, has postponed its annual event to Sep. 29 to Oct. 1. It will still be held in San Diego, where it was originally scheduled to start on March 30.

In the note, first sent to sponsors and viewed by EdSurge, organizers acknowledged that the new dates happens shortly after Yom Kippur, and said they will do “everything in our power” to accommodate attendees of the Jewish faith.

Last year, Summit organizers said more than 4,700 attendees registered for the event.

Earlier this month, Summit organizers seemed gung ho on making the show happen as originally scheduled. In an email, Deborah Quazzo, co-founder of the event, tried to assure attendees that her team had taken additional precautionary measures, including temperature screenings and turning away (and refunding) those coming from “Level 3” countries most impacted by the coronavirus. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)

Correction: This blurb originally stated that the new dates overlap with Yom Kippur. They do not.


March 10, 1:00 p.m. Harvard, Ohio State University Join Growing Ranks of Colleges Moving Online

In a note to the Harvard community, university president Lawrence Bacow informed students of new coronavirus-related rules that will restrict classes and campus activities. Students are told they must vacate their dormitories by March 15, and are not to return to campus after their spring break, which ends on March 22. Beginning on the following day, courses will be taught online. In addition, campus officials are also discouraging any gatherings of more than 25 people.

Nearby, Amherst College announced similar measures for students to move off campus and switch to online learning after their spring break.

In Maryland and Washington, D.C., American University and the University System of Maryland are preparing to move instruction online. Elsewhere, Ohio State University has suspended in-person classes until March 30 and has directed instructors to hold them virtually. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 9, 3:07 p.m. UC Berkeley classes go online.

University of California, Berkeley, has become the latest major U.S. university to close classes for an extended period of time due to concerns over COVID-19.

In an email from Carol Christ, the chancellor said the school has seen no confirmed cases on campus for now. The school will move all lecture courses and seminars to Zoom and other online tools starting Tuesday and through spring break, which ends March 29. Courses that have to meet in person—such as labs, performing arts and physical education classes—will continue to meet as scheduled. But Christ encourages as few in-person meetings as appropriate.

“We understand that implementing these changes with such limited notice will have broad impacts and will be challenging and disruptive for many of you,” according to the email. “We appreciate your patience and cooperation.”

Campus buildings will remain open and operations will continue on a more limited scope as Berkeley employees work remotely.

Campus-sponsored events for more than 150 attendees will cancel or postpone. Performance and athletic events aren’t canceled but will include “generous refund policies,” according to the email.

The university will decide later what happens after spring break. Instructors without online learning plans in place may cancel classes early to prepare for remote students by Thursday.
While campuses here and there have closed for a handful of days for cleaning, the University of Washington, Princeton University and Stanford University have moved classes online for a week or more. —Wade Tyler Millward (@WadeMillward)


March 9, 9:35 a.m. Princeton University to move to virtual classes starting March 23.

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber informed staff and students this morning about a “mandatory, temporary move for all lectures, seminars, and precepts to virtual instruction starting on Monday, March 23.” These policies will be enforced through April 5, after which school officials will reassess the situation. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 9, 9:10 a.m. American Council on Education calls off conference; A spreadsheet tracker for college and conference cancellations

The American Council on Education, a membership organization for higher education leaders, has called off its annual conference, originally scheduled to take place in San Diego on March 14-16. The event draws more than 1,500 attendees every year from colleges and universities in every state.

Separately: Bryan Alexander, a writer and speaker on higher-education issues, has started a spreadsheet to track college closures. Anne Marie Gruber, an assistant professor of library services at the University of Northern Iowa, has compiled a list of academic conferences that have either cancelled or postponed their gatherings. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 8, 7:25 p.m. More schools and college campuses suspend in-person classes.

As coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb in the U.S., so have the number of K-12 and higher-ed institutions across the country that have decided to suspend in-person classes. Among them:

We expect more announcements in the coming days, and recommend checking in with your local news outlets for the latest and timeliest updates in your community. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 7, 11:40 a.m. K-12 professional association ASCD cancels annual conference.

ASCD, a professional membership organization that claims more than 113,000 K-12 teachers and education leaders, announced it has cancelled its annual event, Empower, that was scheduled to be held on March 12-16 in Los Angeles.

The conference draws upwards of 10,000 attendees, and this year there were more than 400 planned sessions according to the program schedule. — Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 7, 9:30 a.m. AERA cancels annual conference; MIT restricts travel and events.

The American Educational Research Association has called off its annual conference, originally set to be held in San Francisco on April 17-21. This is a marquee event for the education research community, attended by about 15,000 people every year.

In its announcement, organizers said the event is shifting to a virtual gathering, and said in a tweet that it will be offering full refunds for registrations.

MIT also issued preventative measures. In an email, MIT President L. Rafael Reif notified university personnel about restrictions on events and travels. Among the updates: suspension of all international travel for MIT staff and students, and a directive to “postpone, cancel or ‘virtualize’” all in-person MIT events with more than 150 attendees. It has already cancelled planned informational events and tours for K-12 and prospective students through May 15.

This is a time when students and families visit colleges, and other campuses could soon follow suit. —Tony Wan (@tonywan)


March 6, 10:10 p.m. Stanford University cancels in-person classes.

Stanford University has canceled in-person classes for the next two weeks, the remainder of its winter quarter. Classes will move online and exams will be given in a take-home format, according to a statement posted to the university’s website. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


March 6, 9:15 p.m. USC will test online learning next week.

The University of Southern California will hold online classes next week for three days for its entire campus to test its capabilities in case of a coronavirus-related closure. Afterward, in-person classes will resume as usual, according to a letter by Provost Charles F. Zukoski reported by the Los Angeles Times. The test will take place March 11 to 13 and impact more than 7,000 lecture classes. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


March 6, 5:26 p.m. LMS companies prepare for influx of students.

The two largest learning management system providers have said they are ready to scale for an influx of students on their platforms due to schools moving online to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, Blackboard senior director of product management Brent Mundy said in an online post that Blackboard has dedicated engineering and development operations teams to help colleges preparing to take students online. He provided links to guides on how to use Blackboard during an emergency.

A post on Feb. 28 signed by Instructure’s chief customer experience officer, Melissa Loble, noted that the Canvas LMS automatically scales to support a wide range of concurrent users. She referenced tools and guides Canvas users can look at to prepare for taking a large number of students online. Tools include a single-page due date changer that the University of Central Florida developed and used when Hurricane Irma halted on-campus operations in 2017, as well as disaster guides from Indiana and Northwestern universities. —Wade Tyler Millward (@WadeMillward)


March 6, 2:35 p.m. Organizers cancel SXSW EDU

By request of the city of Austin, Texas, organizers have canceled this year’s SXSW EDU (in addition to the main SXSW event) out of an abundance of caution regarding the coronavirus.

According to a short note posted on its website, organizers expressed some displeasure at the news, attributing it to a decision by the city of Austin, adding they were “devastated” to share news of the cancellation. “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place,” it noted.

Part of the SXSW EDU event, which was scheduled for March 8 to 12, may shift online, and organizers said they are already looking to reschedule. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


March 6, 8:30 a.m. U. of Washington becomes the first U.S. university to halt in-person teaching.

University of Washington officials today announced that as of March 9, no classes or finals will be held in person for the rest of this quarter (which ends March 20). A spokesperson was not immediately available to say whether those classes and exams will be delivered online or simply scrapped (though we will update this as soon as we hear).

The plan is to resume normal in-person campus operations when the next quarter begins on March 30, “pending public health guidance.”

Washington State has seen 13 deaths and 75 reported cases of COVID-19, according to The New York Times.

Update: Officials sent an email to all faculty and graduate students at University of Washington campuses today with more details on their policy to not hold classes in person for the rest of the quarter. The email, from provost Mark Richards and the chair of the faculty senate, Joseph Janes, said that exams “may be conducted online where feasible, at the instructor’s discretion.”

It says it is up to each professor to determine whether classes can move online, and whether there is enough student work to assign a fair letter grade at the end of the quarter. As the message notes: “We ask that you provide your students with maximum flexibility as you accommodate these changes, and that decisions be based upon fairness and what is most supportive of students. We should seek to minimize anxieties for our students to the extent possible, especially anxieties related to how these actions might impact student progress to degree and future career prospects.” —Jeffrey R. Young (@jryoung)


March 5, 6:00 p.m. MIT’s Solve launches pandemic social impact challenge

MIT’s Solve initiative, which funds entrepreneurs working in social impact, has launched a new global challenge related to stopping the spread of global pandemics. In particular, it’s looking for solutions relating to hygiene, rapid diagnostics and data analysis, according to a recent announcement on its website. The challenge is open to anyone and applications close June 18.

The organization has also moved the program for its flagship Solve conference entirely online due to concerns over coronavirus. Originally, an in-person conference was scheduled for May in Cambridge, Mass. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


March 5, 4:35 p.m. Analysts watch for coronavirus impact on edtech stocks.

On Monday, investment bank BMO Capital Markets reported that some publicly traded online education companies, such as K12, might see an influx of students due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Online education has previously proven a temporary help to schools closed due to natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“While we are uncomfortable citing ‘winners’ in the coronavirus situation, some companies may be positioned better than others,” according to the note. “Specifically, those that specialize in online education could see increased interest should the situation worsen.”

Click here to read more about the BMO note. —Wade Tyler Millward (@WadeMillward)


March 5, 1:30 p.m. SXSW EDU participants are canceling plans and sessions.

Companies and organizations are pulling out of the upcoming SXSW EDU, a conference that draws about 10,000 educators and education business leaders to Austin, Texas, each March.

Some groups have posted publicly about cancelations. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union and professional employee organization, tweeted that it has canceled a panel on race and the census scheduled for Monday and asked its panelists to scrap travel plans.

Other participants and planned sessions have been quietly scrubbed from the SXSW EDU website. At least two panels with speakers from Google—one on G Suite for Education and one on Google Cloud—no longer appear.

EdSurge has reached out to SXSW EDU organizers and Google and will update with a response. —Wade Tyler Millward (@WadeMillward)


March 5, noon. Seattle-area district moves to online learning.

The Northshore School District, which serves about 23,000 students in Seattle’s northern suburbs, is moving to remote learning in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, reports the Seattle Times.

“We are no longer able to provide quality instruction and maintain an environment that is safe,” wrote superintendent Michelle Reid in a letter to families. District schools will be closed for at least two weeks. Reid also noted that students and staff at 26 Northshore schools could have been exposed to the virus.

Northshore is moving to online learning, a decision it made only after determining that all students had access to a device and an internet connection outside school. Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction urged districts to consider equity when deciding whether to move to online learning, and implied that districts who do not accomodate students without an internet connection or those with disabilities could run into “civil rights issues,” according to the Seattle Times.

A memo by the state’s superintendent, Chris Reykdal, suggests that districts issue paper work packets or else make up instruction at the end of the school year. According to the note, “students need to be able to participate in their learning equitably and have access to all their relevant services and supports.”

Northshore is the first K-12 district in the country to put a long-term closure in place due to coronavirus, though schools in parts of Asia and Europe have already seen wide scale closures and moves to remote learning. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


March 5, 10:15 a.m. Colleges brace for possible closures and event cancellations.

The fast-spreading coronavirus is top of mind this week at colleges (and, well, everywhere).

The Center for Disease Control on Tuesday asked colleges to consider cancelling foreign exchange programs and asking current participants to return home. That’s over concerns of impending travel restrictions overseas and the challenge for visiting students of accessing health care while abroad. Several colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, Northwestern, Penn State and Rutgers have already cancelled all campus-sponsored trips abroad, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The biggest elephant in the room is whether any colleges will have to temporarily halt classes, as has happened in many other countries where the virus has taken hold. Syracuse University is among those planning for such a scenario, including creating an action plan to switch to online teaching in the event of a temporary campus closure.

For professors and college leaders, another question is whether or not to attend upcoming conferences. One big one next week is SXSW EDU in Austin, and organizers have stressed that the show will go on. Meanwhile some academic conferences have been called off, including the American Physical Society, which had expected some 10,000 attendees.

Some colleges are doing educational outreach related to the coronavirus. The University of Michigan today announced that it will offer a steep discount (charging only $1) to anyone in China who wants to take their popular online course series on Python programming, because so many people in the country are unable to access in-person education options due to the virus outbreak. —Jeffrey R. Young (@jryoung)


March 4, 7:30 a.m. What happens when coronavirus closes K-12 schools?

To date, more than 290 million students are out of school due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. For context, a population that size would make up the fourth largest country in the world.

In the U.S., which has no plans to close schools on a wide scale, canceling school is pretty unheard of—though not unprecedented. In the 1940s, several communities across the country closed due to polio outbreaks before a vaccine was developed. Almost 30 years earlier, many more schools closed to deal with the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Does closing schools work to stop the spread of viruses? In the case of influenza, research suggests yes—to a point. Peak mortality rates, and possibly overall rates, dropped. More importantly, it may help buy valuable time for that virus, though it’s uncertain whether the approach will work for the coronavirus, for which there is no vaccination on the horizon. —Stephen Noonoo (@stephenoonoo)


EdSurge Coverage

Universities in Washington State Halt In-Person Classes Over Coronavirus Concerns, Shifting Some Online

The University of Washington on Friday became the first university in the U.S. to announce that it would halt in-person classes and exams, in hopes that that will slow the spread of the coronavirus. Hours later, Seattle University made a similar decision. Here’s what that means.

The Coronavirus’ Chilling Effect Hits Edtech Industry Conferences

The spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S. is leaving the edtech conference industry with an existential (if not quite Shakespearean) question at the start of its busy events season: to host or not to host? Many are making hard decisions. We’ve got the latest updates.

‘Students Are Lonely:’ What Happens When Coronavirus Forces Schools Online

The move to online learning is already a reality for Asia’s international schools, many of which follow American curricula and employ American teachers. EdSurge spoke with several educators to get their experiences. From lonely students to long work hours for educators struggling with assessments, here’s how schools are dealing with this massive experiment in distance learning.


Other Coverage and Related Announcements

Outschool, a digital marketplace for live online K-12 classes, has offered to “quickly provide teacher training, webinars and resources on how to continue school online” for free, according to a blog post Monday. The company has already partnered with schools in the San Francisco Bay area to help them prepare for any closures.

Common Sense Media has shared a list of recommended digital resources and advice for educators and parents impacted by and bracing for school closures.

Parent communication app ParentSquare has added a post to its website to help schools fine-tune their coronavirus messaging to students.

California’s schools are preparing for school closures by shoring up distance learning plans. (EdSource)

“Amid coronavirus fears, the CDC told schools to plan for remote learning. That’s harder than it sounds.” (Chalkbeat)

Wakelet, an education technology company, has compiled a collection of edtech providers offering free tools and services to schools closed due to the coronavirus.


Other news

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