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Berea College suspends instruction for remainder of semester amid COVID-19 concerns

Students are asked to move out Saturday, March 14. All athletic events for the remainder of the semester will be canceled.

BEREA, Ky. — Berea College announced Tuesday it will stop classes due to coronavirus concerns.

The announcement noted that the college did not feel like it could assure student and employee safety if someone tested positive for COVID-19 on campus. Because of that, the school decided to cease all instructional activities at the end of the day Friday, March 13.

"I didn't expect to be going home for the entire semester in March," said Sara Schroan, a senior at Berea. "My mom was a little freaked out she said 'does that mean someone has it?' and I said 'no no one here has it. They are just being preventative at this point."

Schroan says she thinks it was a smart decision because it is such a residential campus.

"I think 90% of our students live on campus together, in very close quarters, we have small dorm rooms people," Schroan said.

Commencement will be canceled or at least postponed to a date when it could be conducted safely, and athletics after Thursday, March 12 will be canceled. As for what happens with the rest of students credits, grades and major projects, it's still unknown.

"They are asking a lot of questions.People are very overwhelmed and very surprised. No one expected the college to close so soon," Natalie Mcaninch, a junior at Berea, said. 

She says she was surprised her school made the decision before some of the state universities.

"I figured that public institutions would close before private institutions especially because Berea is normally one of the last schools to close or cancel classes due to like weather," Mcaninch said.

The town will get quiet quicker, and Berea mayor Bruce Fraley says that'll affect more than just the school.

"Well it's different when the students aren't here. At the beginning of the summer, the town feels a little empty," Fraley said. "Certainly it'll have an impact on some of our businesses. Our local restaurants primarily, coffee shops."

But he feels it won't hurt those businesses long term.

There is no official word on whether students will be reimbursed for both tuition and housing costs that they'll loose out on now that the university is closing early. 

Students must move out of student housing, and professors and encouraged to wrap up courses. Accommodations on campus can be provided to students who may not be able to return home, upon application to Student Life. Students who will need assistance with travel costs may also apply to Student Life for assistance. 

School president Lyle Roelofs said all students will continue to be paid for their campus work positions through the end of the semester, even if they are off campus and not able to actually work.

College operations will continue, and staff should plan to continue to fulfill their job responsibilities until further notice.

A note at the top of the announcement said the information "must be regarded as tentative and subject to change." People can read the full announcement here.

There are currently no cases of COVID-19 in Madison County, where Berea College is located.

WHAS11 will continue to update this story with more information when it is provided.

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