With BYU-Idaho canceling on-campus classes, what’s next for student housing and the local economy?

File photo

REXBURG — Brigham Young University-Idaho is canceling all on-campus classes for its upcoming Spring Semester due to the novel coronavirus. All courses will be held online, meaning students will work remotely from wherever they are and the few classes requiring in-person attendance, such as labs, will not be held.

The announcement came with mixed feelings from students. Some were relieved, particularly after the first case of coronavirus in Madison County was announced as a fellow BYU-Idaho student.

Other students are upset because the changes mean significantly reworking their class schedules. Students are also trying to figure out how to get out of housing contracts now that they no longer need to stay in Rexburg.

“It is frustrating because next semester is going to be one of my most challenging ones, especially now that it will be strictly online,” BYU-Idaho student Colie Jensen said. “I hope that the teachers and administration will be able to work together to find a way to provide a solid education to students who may struggle with online learning.”

The school, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, previously canceled all campus in-person classes between March 13 and 17 and began remote instruction Wednesday.

Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce President Chris Mann said the possibility of students leaving Rexburg in large numbers creates concern, as would any downturn to the local economy.

“If we work together, we may not be able to come out of this without a scratch, but I want to come out of it alive,” Mann said about local businesses.

But BYU-Idaho hasn’t officially encouraged students to leave town. Students “need to counsel with their families and other trusted advisers to make that decision,” the school said.

Many students said their apartment complexes are making the decision for them. On social media, they said they wanted to leave Rexburg and return to their homes but were stuck in student housing contracts.

EastIdahoNews.com obtained multiple emails sent to student tenants saying the university’s decision does not release students from their leases. The university says if students plan on leaving Rexburg, they need to work directly with their housing managers.

“BYU-Idaho has given all students the option to travel home,” one complex told students. “We wanted to clarify for those residents who are considering this option, that this announcement does not release you from your lease. Rent will be charged until the end of the contract date as previously agreed upon.”

Another manager emailed students saying that on Monday a meeting with the student housing office will be held to receive “better instruction” on how to move forward. The policy of having students sell their lease will remain in place until they receive additional instruction from the University, the email read.

The struggle for students to get out of their contracts led Katherine McCombs to start a petition encouraging landlords to allow tenants to change their contracts if they desire to move home. As of Monday morning, over 4,100 people have signed the petition.

McCombs tells EastIdahoNews.com one solution would be to allow students to roll their contracts over from spring to fall or winter semesters.

“I do respect all local businesses and apartment complexes/managers, and my heart does go out to everyone during this difficult time,” McCombs said. “However, students are losing jobs, having to move home and simply cannot pay the fees of a spring contract.”

EastIdahoNews.com reached out to multiple apartment complexes and their property management companies but they did not return requests for comment.

BYU-Idaho has not released numbers on how many students are leaving Rexburg and our messages were not returned.