As of Sept. 3, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations released a memorandum updating previous guidance put in place for state agencies, including a new policy stating that teachers must remain masked while teaching. The policy reads that effective immediately, instructors are no longer permitted to lower or remove their face coverings in classrooms while teaching or at any time when others are present.
According to the new guidance, individuals who work in state agencies with workplaces in areas that require indoor masking due to CDC transmission risk or local government order must wear a mask while indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The only exceptions to this rule are when an individual is alone in a room or office, when working at their desk (if it is not a shared space) or when actively eating or drinking.
On Sept. 17, the SUNY New Paltz COVID-19 dashboard reported 37 active COVID-19 cases– 35 student cases and two staff cases. The dashboard also updated the vaccination rate of students and staff who are on campus; 91% of students and 77% of employees have provided proof of vaccination to the school. Of the 3,644 on-campus COVID-19 tests administered since Aug. 23, 2.3% have come back positive. At this time, Ulster County has a positivity rate of 5.8%.
The memorandum was released at a similar time as “The Petition for Dignity and Solidarity at SUNY New Paltz.” The petition was created by staff who were upset with the school’s refusal to allow professors to change the modality of their classes. As of Sept. 19, the petition has 356 signatures from students and staff alike.
The Oracle wrote an editorial on the creation of the petition and spoke with concerned individuals.
With the addition of the new guidance to New Paltz’s COVID-19 guidelines, SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian believes it will be enough to help teachers feel safe.
“We have heard from some of the faculty groups that they wanted us to no longer leave masking to the discretion of the faculty,” he said. “Some of the concern, I think, was of a faculty member who wanted to be masked coming into a classroom where someone had been teaching in the previous session unmasked.”
One of the major points of the petition created by teachers was the denial to move classes online if the professor was no longer comfortable teaching in a classroom. Some even went on record to say that they felt unsafe given the rise in the number of cases on campus and the lack of social distancing and quality air circulation in their classrooms.
“If there is a major spike, we would certainly have to re-evaluate whether we’re about to continue face-to-face instruction,” President Christian said. “We would want to do that in response to a change in conditions and not simply because people are anxious about being in the classroom.”
Although students are encouraged to stay out of the classroom and get tested if they are feeling COVID-19 related symptoms, they still need to complete the work assigned to them, as well as the lesson they missed by not attending class. However with the rise in cases, some students have requested that they continue their education remotely. Like staff, student’s requests to move fully online have been denied.“It’s more challenging with students because we don’t necessarily have a distance remote course section for every course that a student may be enrolled in face-to-face,” President Christian said. “That would need to be reevaluated on a case-by-case basis.”Futhermore, he stated more often than not, students are upset when a teacher moves a class fully online:
“Frequently, we’ve been dealing with a student who has enrolled in an in-person course where the instructor has sought and gained an opportunity to change modality and the student and the student’s parents were upset about that. Now, advisors and department chairs have to work with faculty and students to find the equivalent of those courses that switched modality to online, in an in-person setting.”
Despite the addition to the guidelines, instructors continue their fight to obtain the right to move their classes online if they do not feel comfortable holding class in a classroom. An important date to remember is Sept. 27– the date by which employees and students must show the school proof of vaccination or they will be unenrolled from their courses. Will this help teachers and students feel more comfortable attending in person classes? Only time will tell.