Vincennes University has suspended in-person instruction due to rising COVID-19 rates.

The final day of face-to-face instruction for the fall semester is Friday; both the university’s Vincennes and Jasper locations will then transition to all virtual instruction for the remainder of the year and into January.

VU had planned to make the switch to virtual education following Thanksgiving break and at least through the first of 2021, but due to rising infection rates and a local surge in coronavirus cases, university officials made the decision to bump it up by nearly a week.

VU president Dr. Chuck Johnson said he thought going to virtual instruction the best way to protect the “health and safety of VU students, employees and communities.”

“While VU has thus far managed to keep the number of COVID cases among employees and students on our campuses and sites relatively low, we are also experiencing increases among faculty, staff, and students who are positive cases, primary contacts, or awaiting test results,” Johnson said via a press release issued by the university.

Currently, VU is reporting 23 active cases at its local campus — 15 students and eight employees. The university is reporting just two active cases at its Jasper campus and one at its Aviation Technology Center in Indianapolis.

Residence halls will remain open through the end of the semester, but students are encouraged to move home, if possible.

Knox County saw an additional 52 cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the total now to 1,504 confirmed cases. The 7-day infection rate, too, shot up to more than 11%.

Knox County is still marked as orange — the second-most-severe category — on the state Department of Health’s color-coded dashboard.

There have also been 13 deaths recorded so far; that number is expected to rise as more and more death certificates make their way to state officials.

The Vincennes Community School Corp. closed Lincoln High School last week and moved to e-learning there due to more than 200 students being placed into quarantine. Teachers, too, were getting hard to come by.

VCSC superintendent Greg Parsley said, currently, the school corporation has 20 active cases of COVID-19, and a kindergarten class at Tecumseh-Harrison Elementary School was placed into quarantine on Tuesday.

Of those 20 cases, Parsley said it’s a “mix of students” and staff and spread amongst a handful of buildings.

The high school is scheduled to return to in-person instruction on Monday.

“That is still our intention. That’s where we’re headed,” Parsley said.

Local public schools have, however, made some changes as students look to come back following their Christmas break.

Parsley said the week of Jan. 4-13 will be only e-learning, forcing an 8-day quarantine period for students and families who have inevitably been with extended family over the holiday.

“We made that decision with the knowledge that families will likely be together for Christmas,” he said.

Parsley, too, said even though Gov. Eric Holcomb’s current mask mandate exempts those in kindergarten through the second grade, the VCSC has decided to encourage masks even among those youngest students.

“When we look at where we’ve had to quarantine classes, if we have cases in grades 3-5, we haven’t had to because they are masked and it’s working,” Parsley said. “So we are going to strongly encourage K-2 masking because if those students are wearing masks, we’re not in the situation of having to quarantine an entire classroom.”

The large number of students quarantined previously at the high school was due, largely, to confirmed cases among those involved in contact sports, specifically football and cheerleading.

South Knox is now reporting three active cases at its elementary school and five at the middle high school. Just two of those, according to superintendent Tim Grove, are among students.

But he did have to quarantine the entire girls basketball team due to a positive case there, he said. They’re expected back to in-person instruction following the Thanksgiving break.

“At the elementary school, we’re operating with a skeleton crew,” Grove added.

Teachers and teachers’ aides have chipped in wherever needed, Grove said, answering phones and being in classrooms where teachers have had to teach virtually instead of in-person.

Teachers and staff, he said, have taken to eating lunch at their desks.

Everyone, he said, is doing their best.

“It’s not a lot of fun. Eating lunch alone is not a lot of fun,” he said.

“But we’re trying to be positive. I think that’s all you can do.”

The North Knox School Corp. is reporting five active cases at the primary school and another two each at the intermediate and junior high schools.

The entire first-grade class at the primary school had been in quarantine, but superintendent Darrel Bobe said those students are set to return to in-person instruction on Monday.

An additional ten students have been placed into quarantine since then, he said.

Fall break for VU students runs Nov. 24-Dec. 1. Classes will then resume virtually on Dec. 2.

The last day of the fall semester is Dec. 11.

Spring semester begins virtually on Jan. 19. Face-to-face classes are scheduled to start on Feb. 1.

University officials said some exceptions are being made to permit in-person instruction through Nov. 24, such as clinicals, labs, and internships, but those exceptions will be granted only where absolutely necessary for teaching the remaining material.

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