SUNY and CUNY schools begin implementing a five-day “instructional recess” on Thursday, suspending classes and getting educators ready to move their classes online starting March 19th.

This comes at the direction of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who made the announcement that SUNY and CUNY will maximize “distance learning” and reduce in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester. 

Students and faculty had been anxiously voicing their concerns about the spread of COVID-19 for days, and tensions heightened on Tuesday night when John Jay College announced it would close its campus the following day because one of its students tested positive for the virus.

There would be exceptions to off-campus instruction, the governor stressed. Teaching models for some courses, like those that involve science labs or on-campus equipment, would be decided by individual schools on a case-by-case basis.

All campuses will remain open for the semester including libraries, research facilities, and cafeterias. Students who have meal plans will be able to use their meal cards as usual. And, the governor stressed, no student will be kicked out of a dorm if they have no place to go.

The bottom line goal, Cuomo said, was to “reduce density.” 

SUNY's student association applauded the move, saying it's the right thing to do to protect students, faculty and staff. 

United University Professions, the union representing SUNY professors and other faculty, said it was working to make the transition to online classes but it would  be “challenging.” Some instructors who run labs or care for animals planned to stay on campus.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents 30,000 CUNY faculty and staff, said now that this necessary announcement has been made she wants to hear an articulated plan for staff expected to continue working on campus, including librarians, lab technicians, and people who work in student services.

“There are thousands of people whose work keeps CUNY going everyday,” Bowen told WNYC/Gothamist. “Any concerns about the health and safety of workers has to extend to them.”

Cuomo administration officials said it's also likely that there will be no public graduations this year. 

With additional reporting by Karen DeWitt