'Spring break is over': Coronavirus forces Naval Academy to start online semester Friday
By RICK HUTZELL | The Capital | Published: March 19, 2020
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — The Naval Academy is shifting to online learning starting Friday, telling midshipmen not to come back to Annapolis because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to sent to mids Thursday and posted online, Vice Adm. Sean Buck, academy superintendent, said that the situation is changing too rapidly to set a date for resumption of the spring semester on campus.
“I want to reinforce that spring break is over,” he wrote. “I want to make sure it is abundantly clear that you are in a duty status at your current location.”
The decision will force midshipmen to miss many of the spring traditions and events that normally follow one after the other like dates on the calendar — parades, dances, seminars and tests of physical skill. It also follows two heartbreaking deaths of midsshipmen in February and March on campus, Midshipmen Duke Carrillo and David Forney.
The change follows decisions made at universities around the country and across the street. St. John’s College told its students Thursday not to come back to the Annapolis campus and shift to online learning for the rest of the semester. It canceled the May 10 commencement ceremony.
The academy has slowly tightened access to its grounds as cases of the virus have risen around the nation. Last week, it announced plans to extend the spring break and then closed the visitor’s center and other facilities open to the public.
It also ended public worship services at the Naval Academy Chapel and planned to review weddings and funerals on a case-by-case basis.
Tuesday, the academy announced it was closing the Yard to the public, shutting off a campus that is as much a part of downtown Annapolis as the State House or the stately historic homes.
The decision to shift to online learning comes the same day Maryland recorded its first death from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
A Prince George’s County man in his 60s died after contracting the virus through community transmission. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the death and said the man suffered from underlying health problems.
This is the first death out of 85 confirmed coronavirus cases across the state. The CDC has reported 7,715 cases nationwide and 125 deaths.
In his letter to the midshipmen, Buck reminded them that they are members of the Armed Forces and representatives of the academy in or out of uniform.
All midshipmen are required to provide daily accountability by noon Eastern Standard Time, as well as check-in with their commanders. They also must communicate any changes in health, difficulties in virtual studies, or other challenges that may arise.
“You have military obligations, and attending class is a military obligation,” Buck wrote.
In addition to responding to CDC guidelines, the academy is working on policies set by the Department of Defense.
The Pentagon has issued a stop movement order for all personnel through May 11, restricting their movement to their local area. Buck defined that as 150 miles from their current residence or location.
The superintendent urged midshipmen to stay fit and said the academy is working toward graduating and commissioning the Class of 2020. He called the switch to online learning for the foreseeable future an unprecedented step and one that no other mids have faced.
“I can confidently say no other group of midshipmen has experienced a challenge like this — you are the first, and I know you will meet and exceed my expectations of you.”