CASTINE — On Thursday, March 12, Maine officials announced the state’s first presumptive case of COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus. By 11 a.m. Monday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of eight confirmed cases and nine presumed positive cases of COVID-19.
Late Thursday, Maine Maritime Academy announced comprehensive, but flexible plans for dealing with the public health threat that called for in-person instruction for all courses to continue at the school’s Castine campus and deferred decisions on commencement, the summer training cruise for first- and third-year students and the summer cadet shipping program for second-year midshipmen. By Monday, things had changed significantly.
In a letter posted on the academy website, MMA President William J. Brennan announced that on-campus instruction would be suspended at the end of the day on Wednesday, March 18, and that students were to move out of their dormitories by 4 p.m. Sunday, March 22. Exceptions to the move-out deadline may be available on application for students with “extenuating circumstances.”
Starting Monday, March 30, MMA will move to a system of remote instruction for those courses that can be taught online. Planning was still in the works for how that might be accomplished.
“Transitioning to this model on short notice will be a challenge,” Brennan said in his letter. Some faculty members will be working with Canvas, MMA’s online “learning management system” and other online tools that make course materials and information accessible on the internet. As of Monday afternoon, faculty and administrators were working on plans for how to deal with classes not amenable to online presentation.
For the moment, MMA offices will remain open and employees are expected to report to work on campus as usual. That too could change as the coronavirus situation develops.
Like the mortarboards of graduating seniors, plans for the 2020 commencement are up in the air. Currently, commencement is scheduled for Saturday, May 2, but Brennan’s letter is not encouraging for students hoping to mark the completion of four years of hard work.
“We cannot accommodate a scenario that keeps seniors on campus,” Brennan said, adding “we are committed to doing all that we can to make it possible for you to complete your requirements and graduate so that you can follow through with your career plans” and “truly hope that we can cap the year with a celebration of you and your accomplishments as soon as possible.”
As with commencement, no decisions have yet been announced about the training cruise or cadet shipping. Both programs give students the opportunity to serve the days at sea (sea time) required as a prerequisite to qualifying for a U.S. Coast Guard license as a ship’s deck or engineering officer.
“We work with many partners in industry, the (federal) Maritime Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, businesses and nonprofit organizations, all of which are planning for contingencies because of the advance of COVID,” Brennan told the MMA community. “We will be collaborating with those partners as we continue (training ship State of Maine) cruise planning, which will need to take into account the conditions in the U.S. later this spring. We will also continue to plan for cadet shipping and co-ops in consultation with host employers.”