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Colleges Across Virginia Close Due to Coronavirus

University of Richmond
University of Richmond. (Photo: Ian Stewart/VPM)

Virginia colleges and universities are starting to advise students not to come back to campus after spring break because of concerns about spreading COVID-19. 

Earlier this week, Richmond mom Kirsten Gray was worried about her 19-year-old daughter going back to UVA. She was relieved when the university cancelled physical classes, this week, and moved them online. But, the gravity of the situation also sunk in.

 “I got a little dizzy with shock, being stunned, because I’m like, oh my God. This really is happening,” Gray said. 

UVA was among the first Virginia schools to announce they’ll be taking classes online next week. VCU followed with an announcement Wednesday night, with more announcements continuing to roll in. 

Thursday afternoon, Richmond area community colleges Reynolds Community College and John Tyler Community College also announced plans to extend spring break and take classes online. 

At Virginia's 23 community colleges, presidents are empowered to make decisions about what needs to happen to fit their community and the needs of their campus,” said Jeff Kraus, spokesman for the Virginia Community College System.

Kraus said community colleges officials have a lot of the same concerns as other four-year colleges when it comes to their coronavirus response.

“We have study abroad programs, too,” Kraus said. “We have international students at some of our institutions, people have paid for courses, financial aid rules are involved, accreditation standards have to be met...”

One thing he says they won’t have to worry about that other colleges do: students living on campus. All Virginia community college students commute to campus.

That’s been a concern for students like 22-year-old Virginia Union University senior Bobby White. While he went home to Hampton, Virginia over spring break and is glad the university has made the decision to extend spring break because of COVID - 19, White worries about friends stuck on campus without the resources to travel.

“I feel bad because there are students who didn’t go home for spring break,” White said. “And some of them may live far or near, and they may not have a way to get back home or they just can’t go back home now. I feel like that’s a problem.”

White said he’s trying to find a way to help one friend, originally from New York and on campus now, to travel to Hampton to join him. 

“So that he wouldn’t have to be in shock and worry as much, he could be more comfortable,” White said. 

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Virginia Union University hadn’t updated their website to reflect an extended spring break, or returned questions from VPM about plans going forward. 

The University of Richmond also announced plans to extend spring break and move classes online starting March 23. But for students who aren’t local, they only have until 5 p.m. Friday to file a petition to stay on campus, if they have “extenuating circumstances.” 

International student Hijab Fatima said she filed her petition already, but hasn’t heard back yet from university officials if she’s allowed to stay on campus. That’s left her feeling anxious. 

“We don't know when we're going to hear back, hopefully very soon,” Fatima said. 

Fatima stayed on campus over spring break because she said going home to Pakistan for just a week wouldn’t have made sense because it’s far to travel for just a week. 

In an email to students, President Ronald Crutcher says that the University will continue to support a limited on-campus population.

For Gray, mother to the 19-year-old University of Virginia student, she says the situation is scary, but it's given her another chance to feel proud of her daughter.

“She was like, since you guys are in your 50s if things get really rough, I'll be the one to go to the store for the family. And I was like, Oh my god, that is like that’s an unbelievable response.”

*Ian Stewart contributed to this report