Associated Student Government senators passed a resolution Tuesday to request that UA administrators not allow professors to require in-person attendance for the spring semester, when the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to worsen. The resolution passed with 43 votes in favor and two abstentions.
Models by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation project the daily infection rate for COVID-19 to rise sharply through February. On Jan. 11, the first day of the spring semester, total U.S. active cases are projected to reach 326,102. Total deaths from the virus in Arkansas are projected to reach 3,368 by 2021.
Scientists at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention use data of previously reported COVID-19 cases to forecast the national case count as far out as four weeks. The scientists predict 630,000 to 1,700,000 new cases will likely be reported during the week ending Dec. 5.
Stephanie Verdaris, an ASG member, worked with the Senate Academics Committee to author the resolution, which will be sent to the provost, chancellor and Faculty Senate. Verdaris hopes the resolution will ignite a conversation among administrators about reconsidering the proposed attendance requirements, she said.
The resolution also proposes amendments to the COVID-19 academic flexibility form. The bill’s authors and sponsors want students to be allowed to opt out of in-person classes for both medical reasons and personal safety concerns.
“In-person classes increase exposure to others who might not be taking precautions outside of the classroom, and Zoom offers an opportunity to participate in classes in a private setting with far less exposure,” Verdaris said in an email. “While I prefer the in-person setting, many students prefer the Zoom option during this time to decrease their exposure to others and take advantage of the remote learning opportunity.”
ASG President Julia Nall said she learns better in on-campus classes but thinks attending classes in person would be detrimental to her mental and physical health during the pandemic.
“That is the decision that a lot of us are having to make right now,” Nall said. “And that’s exactly what it should be, [a] decision. We have to weigh the pros and cons of each class delivery method for us as individuals.”
Nall and Verdaris said they are concerned that the wave of students returning from a month-long winter break in January could bring with it a surge of COVID-19 cases. They said they think students should consider getting tested for the virus prior to returning to campus in January.
Manager of University Communications John Thomas said in an email that he thinks campus will be a safe environment for students, staff and faculty in the spring, as long as they continue wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands frequently.
“It takes a concerted effort by everyone to achieve that goal,” Thomas. “We can’t let our guard down and give in to COVID fatigue.”
Official plans for the spring semester have yet to be finalized, but UA administrators will communicate their intentions to students in the coming weeks. The administrators plan to factor the legislation passed by ASG into their decision, Thomas said.