This is the first semester that the new Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Conroe has welcomed students to campus, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the year is not starting as anticipated.
The College of Osteopathic Medicine received its pre-accreditation status in September of last year, which allowed the college to start recruiting new students. The school’s first class is 75 students but in about two years the school plans to double that number to meet its full capacity of 150 students.
BOONE, N.C. — Since last Monday, when a sophomore at his school died from suspected Covid-19 complications, Chase Sturgis says he has been thinking about his own bout with the coronavirus — and his own mortality.
Mr. Sturgis, 21, had been avoiding socializing over the summer, but as students at his school, Appalachian State University, began returning to campus in August, he yielded to temptation. “We went out to a bar,” he said. Within days he felt ill, and then tested positive for coronavirus: “To this day I have no sense of taste or smell.”
But even more unnerving is the “really, honestly scary” realization that he and the student who died, 19-year-old Chad Dorrill, were sick at about the same time, with similar symptoms and no known pre-existing conditions. “He died a week or two after he got the virus,” Mr. Sturgis said. “It has been about two weeks for me.”
Young people have generally been at lower risk of developing severe cases of Covid-19, and there have been only a few student deaths linked to the virus. But while that statistical advantage may have led to apathy about the pandemic at some institutions, Mr. Dorrill’s death has shaken the rural Appalachian State campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sparking questions about whether the college is doing enough to keep its students and faculty safe.
“It’s not a hoax, that this virus really does exist,” said a classmate of Mr. Sturgis, Emma Crider. “Before this, the overall mentality was ‘out of sight, out of mind.’”
That approach, the school’s website says, is based on C.D.C. guidance, which has advised against testing all students upon arrival to campus. Health experts have criticized the C.D.C.’s guidance as weak and confusing, but many large public colleges have based their coronavirus health regimens on it.
The West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District amended its virtual learning policy, and the changes may force dozens of students to return to campus.
It’s a move that isn’t sitting well with some parents as they weigh the dangers of face to face learning during a pandemic.
The policy has sparked outrage among some students and parents of WOCCISD, and many feel like they’re having to choose between health and an education.
Virtual learning has become a way of life during the pandemic. The prospect of it not being available concerns parent Ryan Melancon.
“This decision doesn’t just affect money, it doesn’t just affect kids’ education, it affects the lives of parents and the grandparents these students will come and contact with,” Melancon said.
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He has two children in WOCCISD. The district recently announced that students who aren’t passing and who have more than 5 absences can no longer participate in virtual learning.
A district spokesperson said a number of students simply aren’t showing up and aren’t completing coursework, which led to the change in policy.
Rayne Keith, Melancon’s daughter, said her biggest concern is potentially bringing the virus home.
“My dad could die and I just don’t want that to happen so I take it very seriously and there are a bunch of parents that their parents could die from COVID and the school just doesn’t seem to care,” Keith said.
She feels that the school should handle things differently.
“The school has made a situation that they could have managed a lot worse,” Keith said.
WOCCISD will allow a few exceptions. Some of those who are passing classes, have health conditions, or have been exposed to the virus will be exempt. Melancon said it’s not enough, and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his kids.
“If I have to pull them from the district I will. They will not be going back. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they will catch COVID at these schools,” Melancon said.
Students who meet the criteria that the district has set are expected to return to campus on Monday, October 5. For anyone with concerns about the policy, you’re encouraged to contact the district.