Students are looking for answers in completing field work assignments amid universitywide suspension of in-person instruction because of COVID-19. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

Cheyenne Campbell was in her Columbus elementary school classroom Thursday when she received news that all Ohio K-12 schools would close for a minimum of three weeks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 per Gov. Mike DeWine’s orders.

This news came hours before University President Michael V. Drake announced in a universitywide email that in-person instruction was suspended for the remainder of the semester because of COVID-19.

“Exceptions will be made for certain clinical experiences or field work in which students are actively serving patients or clients,” the email said. “Academic leaders from those programs will be contacting students with specific information.”

Campbell, a fourth-year in early childhood education and student teacher, is one of many students who are part of the clinical experience or field work exception. She said the past few days have been a waiting game.

“For teacher licensure, we have to have a minimum of 12 weeks full-time student teaching, so it’s supposed to be at least 40 hours a week,” Campbell said. “If we go back on time, then I’ll be two weeks short of the required hours.”

She said her instructors have been in contact with the students in her program and they said students will not be penalized for the directives, but they are waiting to hear from the Ohio Department of Higher Education regarding the possible modification for field experiences amid these unprecedented circumstances.

With uncertainty surrounding when — and if — schools will reopen for the end of the school year, seniors like Campbell are left wondering if they will be able to graduate and receive their licensure on time in May.

“I guess I’m just trying to be positive about it because I don’t have to worry about housing and certain things that other people do, but it’s definitely still stressful. I would love to graduate on time,” she said.

Kate Fowler, a fifth-year in nursing, said Bernadette Melnyk, dean of the College of Nursing, told students it’s possible clinicals could continue again after March 30. However, Fowler said she would be content if the virtual assignments could count in place of students’ in-person hours.

“I do have a friend who says this is making her reconsider nursing,” Fowler said. “It’s scaring her a lot.”

Fowler, like Campbell, also has strict hour requirements that must be fulfilled in order to meet state standards. Nursing students must obtain a certain number of hours to qualify to take the National Council Licensure Examination, the test that determines if a nursing student will be awarded their entry-level license. Fowler is currently 56 hours short of her requirement.

“Some people think that we’re going to have to shove our hours in at the end after we come back after [March 30] because we’re missing two weeks of clinical,” Fowler said. “I don’t see how we can do that because our instructors have clinicals on the other days, and we can’t have more than eight people to an instructor.”

Phil Saken, director of communication in the College of Nursing, said in an email that faculty, staff and administration are working to design a plan to support students’ academic needs and limit the impact of COVID-19. He said the college is actively communicating with the Ohio Board of Nursing and will communicate plans with students as they evolve. 

“The College of Nursing, like all of our colleagues across campus, are working diligently to adjust to this ‘new normal,’” he said. “We are working 24/7 to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff – our top priority for everyone associated with our college.”

Fowler said although her instructor has been in contact with her and the other students, she told students she wants to refrain from giving them too much information. The situation is evolving rapidly, and she said she doesn’t want to say something that ends up not being true.

“From what I understand, the College of Nursing is working with the Board of Nursing to see if our virtual assignments might count for our hours,” Fowler said. “But they said they’re making every effort – it didn’t really sound like a guarantee that it’s going to count.”

The College of Nursing will host virtual town halls Wednesday to answer students’ questions, Saken said.  

This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. on 3/17 with comment from Phil Saken.