Delta State University's response to Coronavirus

Coronavirus Update #6 – March 18, 2020:

TO: Delta State University
FROM: DSU President William N. LaForge
UPDATE #6: Coronavirus Update from President LaForge – March 18, 2020

This update contains several new announcements, as well as a lot of new information about resources available to students. I apologize for its length, but it contains important information that you need to know.

Commencement Changes

Based on national and state public health protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) has recommended that Spring commencement exercises be indefinitely postponed.

Based on this advice and direction from IHL Commissioner Al Rankins, Delta State is postponing its May 8 commencement exercises. The other seven state public universities are doing likewise. We certainly plan to honor all of our graduates in a proper manner, so stay tuned for information on the rescheduled commencement date, which will likely be set for late summer or early fall, or soon after Mississippi’s state of emergency declaration has ended.

Although the date for the Spring 2020 Commencement ceremony will change, the deadlines for our end of term academic processes remain the same. The Registrar’s Office will verify credits, award degrees, and place the name of the degree earned on transcripts in the regular time frame. As a result, graduating seniors will receive their diplomas in the regular time frame. Transcripts are typically available two to three weeks following the date grades are due. Students should check the Registrar’s web page, at the end of April, for more information and updates regarding this process.

So, in summary, graduating seniors will graduate (and receive their diplomas) on schedule, if they meet their degree requirements. It’s just the ceremonial commencement exercise (previously scheduled for May 8) that will be rescheduled.  For those students who have already reserved a cap and gown, please contact the Campus Bookstore at (662) 846-4640.

Teaching Outline for Rest of Semester

As has been previously announced, classes will resume Monday, March 23, with all courses online.

In compliance with recent guidance from Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Delta State University (along with its seven sister institutions) has made the decision to continue the online delivery of instruction through the end of the spring semester. This means that students and faculty will not return to campus for face-to-face classes this semester.

Residence Hall Students

For those students who were living in the residence halls prior to Spring Break, we have scheduled days and times for you to check out of your residence hall.

The timeline below allows all students and their families proper notice to arrange travel, as well as two weekend opportunities in an effort to avoid work schedules or other conflicts.

Times:
9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Dates:
Friday, March 20
Saturday, March 21
Sunday, March 22
Monday, March 23
Friday, March 27
Saturday, March 28
Sunday, March 29

If this schedule does not meet a student’s need, he/she can request times on the following days, by appointment only (662-846-4151 or housing@deltastate.edu):

Thursday, March 19
Tuesday, March 24
Wednesday, March 25
Thursday, March 26

Students who have extenuating circumstances related to their living arrangements should contact the Housing Office at (662) 846-4151 or housing@deltastate.edu.

Summer School

Classes offered in Summer I and Summer II terms will be delivered exclusively online, as well.

We highly encourage students to consider enrolling in summer school for a number of important reasons. First, taking one to two classes in the summer gives students an opportunity to focus on a limited number of courses and increase their learning capacity and opportunity for higher grades. Secondly, taking summer school courses allows students to chip away at their course requirements for their degree so that they will have lighter course loads during the regular school year. This applies to both undergraduate and graduate school courses. I encourage you to review the summer offerings on our summer school web page.

Course/Technology Resources for Students

Delta State is making every effort to provide support and to help students be successful with the new, fully online course delivery system.  There are eight primary areas where Delta State is increasing/changing its operations to help students be successful.

1. Online Classes: For students who have never participated in an online course or are new to Canvas (Delta State’s system for providing online courses), we have created a course called Student Orientation to Canvas Tutorial. We strongly encourage students who are new to Canvas to review this tutorial this week in preparation for the online classes that begin on Monday.

2. Books for Online Classes: For students who have not participated in an online course previously, I have included below instructions for streamlining the first time access experience.

a. VitalSource.com provides free access to ebooks.
b. To get started, students should visit bookshelf.vitalsource.com. Before students can begin searching for and reading ebooks, they will need to log-in or create a Bookshelf account with their Delta State email address.
c. For students accessing Bookshelf for the first time:

• Here are instructions on creating a Bookshelf account. Once students create an account with their Delta State-provided email address, they should login to their new account and click on the “Explore” tab in the upper left corner of the screen to search by ISBN, Title, or Author in order to find the free ebooks associated with each of their courses.

d. For students with existing Bookshelf accounts linked to their Delta State-provided email address:

• When students login with their existing Bookshelf accounts, linked to their Delta State-provided email address, they will see a new tab called “Explore” in the upper left corner of the screen. They can click on this “Explore” tab to search by ISBN, Title, or Author to find the free ebooks associated with each of their courses.

e. Students, who need additional assistance gaining access to the site or have questions, should visit https://support.vitalsource.com/hc/en-us/articles/360044467674-Student-and-Instructor-Frequently-Asked-Questions

3. Library Resources:  The Roberts-LaForge Library will be closed to the public; however, library services will be provided electronically to students. Students who need assistance accessing library services may contact library personnel at (662) 846-4440.

4. Technical/Connectivity Issues: Students who experience difficulty connecting/accessing their online course should contact OIT at (662) 846-4444 or helpdesk@deltastate.edu.

5. No Equipment or Internet Service: Students who do not have access to a computer/smartphone device (or one that is compatible with Canvas) and/or do not have access to the Internet, see the options/resources below:

a. Students who live within driving distance of the campus AND:

i. Do not have access to a computer/smartphone device – For students who do not have a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any type of device that allows them to access their class online, or who cannot obtain access to a device via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend, Delta State is setting up three computer labs for students living on campus or within driving distance to the campus.  The computer labs will be located in Foundation Hall, the Roberts-LaForge Library, and the Dorgan Center. The labs will be limited to five users at a time, will have a staff member on site to assist, and the equipment will be cleaned after each use.
ii. Do not have access to the Internet – Students who have a device, but do not have reliable access to the Internet, or who cannot obtain access to the Internet via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend may utilize the services listed in item #5(a)(i) above.  Also, any student can drive onto any area of the campus and access the university’s Internet from their vehicle or any outdoor space.  And, staff in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) have compiled a list of popular carriers who have announced special programs/services for students to help with internet access.  See attached.  Please note that this information is subject to change and students should verify/check the vendors’ websites for additional information.

b. Students who do not live within driving distance of the campus AND lived in the residence halls prior to Spring Break AND…

i. Do not have access to a computer/smartphone device – For students who do not have a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any type of device that allows them to access their class online, or who cannot obtain access to a device via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend, those students may return to the residence halls for the duration of the spring semester (or on a daily basis) and may utilize the technology resources referenced in item #5(a) above.
ii. Do not have access to the Internet – Students who have a device, but do not have reliable access to the Internet, or who cannot obtain access to the Internet via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend, have three options:

(1) Staff in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) have compiled a list of popular carriers who have announced special programs/services for students to help with internet access.  See attached.  Please note that this information is subject to change and students should verify/check the vendors’ websites for additional information.
(2) A limited number of hot spot devices are available and can be loaned to students for the duration of the spring semester. If interested, students should contact the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at (662) 846-4444 or helpdesk@deltastate.edu.
(3) If the options listed above are not workable, the student may return to the residence halls for the duration of the spring semester, or on a daily basis.

c. Students who do not live within driving distance of the campus AND lived off campus prior to Spring Break AND…

i. Do not have access to a computer/smartphone device –Students who do not have a computer, tablet, smartphone, or any type of device that allows them to access their class online, or who cannot obtain access to a device via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend, should contact their instructor to determine the possibility of receiving course materials via email or snail mail—similar to that of a correspondence course.
ii. Do not have access to the Internet – Students who have a device, but do not have reliable access to the Internet, or who cannot obtain access to the Internet via a public library, city hall, or relative/friend, have three options:

(1) Staff in the Office of Information Technology (OIT) have compiled a list of popular carriers who have announced special programs/services for students to help with internet access.  See attached.  Please note that this information is subject to change and students should verify/check the vendors’ websites for additional information.
(2) A limited number of hot spot devices are available and can be loaned to students for the duration of the spring semester. If interested, students should contact the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at (662) 846-4444 or helpdesk@deltastate.edu.
(3) If the options listed above are not workable, the student should contact their instructor to determine the possibility of receiving course materials via email or snail mail—similar to that of a correspondence course.

d. If none of the arrangements/options listed above can be made, the student should consult with his/her instructor and/or advisor regarding taking an “Incomplete” grade in the course and retaking the course at a later time.

6. Course Questions:  For questions/concerns about a particular course, students should contact their instructor.

7. Support for Students:  For students who need other assistance associated with their coursework, contact the Student Success Center at 662-846-4574 or email studentsuccess@deltastate.edu.

8. Counseling Center for Students: The Counseling Center (located in the O.W. Reily Health Center) will remain open for regular hours. Also, the staff will be available remotely to assist and support students.  The phone number is 662-846-4690. To contact a counselor by e-mail: Deidre Byas – dbyas@deltastate.edu, Kashanta Jackson – kjackson@deltastate.edu, or Paula King – pking@deltastate.edu.

Four-Day Work Week

Due to current circumstances and the scaling back of operations and services, the Cabinet has made the decision to begin the typical, summer four-day work week schedule earlier than initially planned. Also, extending weekends to three days will help hold in check further social interaction and exposure, and possibly reduce the presence of live viruses on surfaces.

The summer schedule, which comprises 10 hours per day/4 days per week, was set to begin on Monday, May 18 and conclude on Friday, August 7.  Instead, it will now begin on Monday, March 23 and will still conclude on Friday, August 7.

Please note that the temporary change to a four-day work week does not substantively change the guidance supervisors provided to employees yesterday regarding each person’s categorization, assignments, and work schedule. Rather, the new system/process that went into effect today will simply be converted to a “10 hours per day/4 days per week” schedule instead of an “8 hours per day/5 days per week” schedule. As has been the case with the summer schedule, the campus will remain open for essential services, as well as for staffing of Kent Wyatt Hall and major phone lines, on Fridays.

The Office of Human Resources will distribute to the campus later this week additional information and instructions regarding the new schedule.

Hand Sanitizing Stations

In compliance with recent guidance from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning regarding preventative and protection practices, Delta State will install several sanitizing stations around high-touch areas on campus.  Please use these stations liberally.

Sanitation and Social Distancing Training

In compliance with recent mandatory guidelines from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning regarding sanitation and social distancing training, all employees, as well as all students living on campus, must participate in training on these two issues.

Police Chief Jeff Johns distributed an email to the campus earlier today with the links to the videos.  I have included them below, as well.  Watching these videos is an excellent way for you to become more knowledgeable about best practices for prevention, and we encourage you to share this information with family and friends.

Special Note to Students

I realize this is a stressful and uncertain time for you, but know that your university is doing all we can to continue our instructional mission to support you, just as we are also doing everything possible to respond prudently to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Today’s announcements, as well as those included in previous Campus Updates, have essentially outlined Delta State’s plans from now until the end of the summer term.  Please know that we will do everything possible to help you be successful as we deliver your course content through the online process previously described.  I hope you will bear with us over the next several weeks, and until we complete the semester in May.

But, to help you be successful, we need for you to let us know if you are having difficulties.  There are a lot of possible remedies, including contacting your instructors or the Student Success Center. Please do not allow yourself to fall behind in your progress toward a degree or to be unsuccessful in a course due to fear of asking questions or asking for help.  We can’t help you if you don’t let us know that you need help. We are in this together…please let us help you.

I encourage you to finish the semester strong, and to consider enrolling in summer school classes (at either the undergraduate or graduate level).

To our graduating seniors who will complete their coursework in May, we look forward to celebrating your accomplishments with a special ceremony in the near future!

For students in the residence halls, you now have detailed information and plenty of options regarding closing out your room lease and picking up your belongings.

It’s time for us all to Join In and Stand Out—remotely and with a virtual fist bump!

I look forward to welcoming all of our students back to campus in the near future.

Conclusion

Please continue to monitor closely the university’s website (www.deltastate.edu/coronavirus), official social media accounts, and campus email for updates.

For campus-related additional questions, contact the campus Police Department at 662-846-4155.

The Delta State family is pulling together and rising to the occasion to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we encourage everyone to be safe and proactive in using prevention protocols.