Public Health

Coronavirus and law schools: More universities shifting to online classes

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An increasing number of universities with law schools—including those that have not reported active cases of coronavirus—are canceling their in-person classes and moving them online.

USA Today and CNN are tracking the universities that have taken action as the virus, which was declared a global pandemic Wednesday, spreads rapidly across the country.

As of Thursday, dozens of law schools already had made the move to online classes.

New York Law School was the first to shut down, closing for disinfecting on March 4 after it was discovered that a law student interacted with an attorney who tested positive for the coronavirus. The University of Washington, Stanford University, Hofstra University and Columbia University announced their plans to shift to online classes over the weekend, and more followed throughout the week.

If law schools face “disruption of the normal operation” with classes, they should contact the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, according to a managing director’s guidance memo published in February.

Distance learning, which is addressed in Standard 306, could be a good solution for emergency situations where law school facilities are unavailable or something makes it hard for students to get to the campus, the memo states. But it cautioned that schools and students may not have the technology necessary for distance learning, and faculty could be inexperienced with that type of teaching.

“We have issued guidance in other such situations, but it has always been specific to a particular emergency or disaster. It is a good idea to have something broader out there for schools, which we try to do here, but the timing is certainly connected to questions we are getting about the coronavirus,” Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education for the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said in a statement.

Currier said law schools have been sharing the section with what they plan to do. The section also has received calls from law students concerned that their law schools are switching to online courses on a temporary basis.

Currier said the primary responsibility for dealing with the coronavirus fallout lies with the law schools, not the ABA. And it’s the council of the section, not the ABA, that is responsible for granting variance requests, he said.

“We are not going to say to the schools, ‘Why don’t you just give everyone in law school a JD and be done with it?’ The schools are trying to adjust their education while preserving the integrity of their academic programs,” he said. “Our job is to ensure that they didn’t go too far. Which the council is perfectly capable of doing, but not within an hour. We are going to give schools some room and trust them, until they demonstrate that the trust is not merited. What I’ve seen so far is that they are doing some amazing things.”

See also: “Coronavirus and law schools: Numerous schools canceling in-person classes”

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