The Haliburton School of Art + Design will go without students in its halls this month as it runs only three courses this semester – all starting entirely online.

Fleming College has decided to begin with online-only learning across all of its campuses, including Haliburton, due to COVID-19. The school plans to return to some in-person learning in November depending on the course of the pandemic.

Fleming College president Maureen Adamson said the Haliburton campus has been the hardest hit by the format, given how experiential it is. She stressed safety when asked about the online-only decision and how it contrasts to grade schools returning to in-person learning.

“Every decision we’re making is based on safety,” Adamson said. “If we can’t set up a classroom that’s appropriately socially distanced, then we won’t run it because the worst thing that could possibly happen for Fleming is to have to shut down again. It’s an extraordinary challenge.”

Like all schools, Fleming closed its doors in March at the onset of the pandemic, switching to online delivery and cancelling its dozens of weeklong summer courses. Many post-secondary schools are taking a similar approach this fall, going to primarily remote delivery, with some allowing blended courses with limited in-person instruction.

Fleming has had to cut down on its 12 full-time Haliburton programs for this semester, as well as other weeklong courses. This semester, the college will deliver its drawing and painting certificate program, as well as its integrated design and digital and creative design diploma programs, with each running between 12 and 20 students.

“The faculty has retained all of the learning outcomes but converted to a digital format,” Adamson said.

The decline in courses has hit enrolment. Across all its campuses, Adamson said domestic enrollment is down 30 per cent and international is closer to 40. That has led to layoffs as well, though Adamson said they have tried to keep as many people employed as possible and they hope layoffs are temporary.

The decline in college students is concerning to some in the Haliburton community.

Landlord Nicola Jowett has offered rooms to students in Haliburton for 12 years but finds several of them empty this September without a student population.

“Frustrated. We’re all in this together and it’s a very difficult situation. Some schools are going back, some places are not,” Jowett said, adding she is considering moving away from offering student housing. “It does put me in a precarious situation.”

Adamson said the college is doing everything it can to support students through the semester ahead.

“We know students, parents, everybody’s nervous and anxious,” Adamson said. “Fleming College has really pulled out all the stops to make all students – new and returning – comfortable, and most importantly, safe.”

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