#Forward Together: What to know about classrooms and COVID-19

Illustration of classroom

Fall term brings a new year of opportunities and a new chapter in the fight against COVID-19.

Masks and vaccines are known to work. With more than 95 percent of those reporting vaccinated, full-scale testing protocols in place, buildings and facilities better outfitted, and more knowledge about the virus, the UO is positioned for a safe return to in-person instruction.

Still, it’s important to know what to expect, said Janet Woodruff Borden, executive vice provost.

“Probably the most important realization is that as a fully vaccinated campus we are returning to full density: large lectures, the same number of seats in a classroom,” she said. “But that also requires responsibility to follow guidelines and respect the practices that have enabled return. The benefit is that we can move forward together and regain the research, study and academic activities at our heart, including learning experiences in the classroom.”

Why is the university moving forward with in-person classes while COVID-19 remains present in our communities?

The University of Oregon’s mission relies on an in-person educational experience where students can connect with faculty and each other, and can engage in hands-on, active learning. While the university and its faculty rose to the challenge of providing a rich educational experience online over the past several terms, the full experience we have to offer simply cannot be completely achieved through remote instruction. Students want to and need to return to campus to maximize their higher education experience.

With public health strategies, the UO’S layered approach to safety measures, and all that has been learned from living with this virus, university officials are confident the UO community can safely reap the full benefits of in-person learning and the university can sustain core research activities.

Will classes be held in rooms at maximum capacity?

Classes are scheduled at full classroom capacity for fall term. Class sizes are based on the capacity of the assigned classroom and adherence to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education.   

Why is social distancing not applied in the classroom?

While it remains a best practice to distance from individuals outside your immediate household, one of the benefits of operating as a vaccinated campus, the CDC says, is the ability to return to standard density on campus. The vaccination requirement coupled with other safety measures, such as the face covering requirement, helps protect students and instructors as much as possible while attending class.

Will students be required to wear masks in class?

Yes, the university has an indoor face covering requirement, including classroom spaces, for all individuals. If a student with a disability feels they are unable to wear a face covering, they should contact the Accessible Education Center to determine if there are reasonable accommodations. The AEC works with them to determine if there are reasonable accommodations. Approved accommodations are then communicated in an instructor notification letter.  

Can an instructor teach in-person classes without a mask if they can maintain at least 6 feet of distance from the students?

Yes, fully vaccinated instructors who are at least 6 feet away from an audience can remove their masks when all others in the room are masked. If the room cannot accommodate 6 feet of distancing between an unmasked instructor and students, the instructor must remain masked.

Can instructors determine for themselves the in-class mask-wearing or social distancing policy for their classrooms?

No, instructors may not determine separate mask-wearing or social distancing policies for their classrooms. For consistency, clarity and compliance with public health best practices and regulations, everyone at the university must follow the same safety protocols. UO regulations are based on current local, state and federal guidance and best practices.

Will instructors be given a list of who among their students is vaccinated and who is not?

No, this information is HIPAA-protected and instructors will not receive lists of students with their vaccination status, nor will they receive information on how many students enrolled in their courses are vaccinated.

What if an instructor is unable to teach class due to COVID-19 related reasons?

In some cases, instructors may need to miss one or more class sessions for COVID-related reasons. In these cases, units will first attempt to cover the class using their normal procedures. If unable to meet the needs of the course through those procedures, units may authorize the instructor to teach remotely during the quarantine period.

Can instructors convert their scheduled in-person course to web-based for the entire term?

Instructors may not change the modality of their courses for the term without approval from the Office of the Provost. In a few rare cases, a course may change to a different modality for unavoidable reasons. Students will be notified if this needs to happen and advisors will be available to help students explore other options.

What help do faculty, staff and students have in enforcing mask-wearing or other safety procedures?

Applicable guidance is posted on the coronavirus information page. From a safe distance, more than 6 feet, remind the individual that UO policy requires campus community members to wear face coverings. Then ask the individual to put on a face covering. If the individual does not have a face covering, provide one from the supply of masks that have been stocked in all classrooms that will have in-person instruction. If a student refuses to wear a face covering, the instructor may ask the person to leave. If the person doesn’t leave, the class may be canceled and the student reported using the COVID-19 behavioral concern reporting form.

If someone is not complying with current mask requirements — for example, wearing their mask below their nose — after being asked to comply, who can be contacted for help enforcing masking rules? 

Individuals can report behaviors of concern, such as not wearing masks, using the COVID-19 behavioral concern reporting form.

What happens if a student develops symptoms?

If a student develops COVID-19 symptoms and has been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, the student should contact University Health Services at 541-346-2770 or a health care provider to determine if and where the person should be tested for COVID-19.

What happens if a student tests positive for COVID-19?

The student should isolate and fill out the case and contact form. The form activates the university’s contact tracing team, the Corona Corps. The contact tracing team will reach out individually to those who have been deemed close contacts and who may have been exposed and need testing or quarantining. Note that under the current CDC guidance, vaccinated people who have been in contact with a positive COVID-19 case do not need to preemptively quarantine, absent showing symptoms. Those who are unvaccinated and develop symptoms should follow the guidance outlined on the UO coronavirus website.

What if a student is unable to attend class in person due to COVID-19 related reasons?

Students who test positive or think they have COVID-19 symptoms should follow the exposure scenarios. If a student has to miss class, the student needs to make arrangements with instructors to make up missed work.

Students can see the expectations and guidance that UO provides for instructors on this Academic Council page.

Will testing be available for students?

Yes, free COVID-19 testing is available for UO employees, students and members of the Eugene/Springfield community who are not having symptoms, even if vaccinated, through university’s Monitoring and Assessment Program.

For more about plans for the new school year, see the main #ForwardTogether page.