North Texas Daily

COVID-19 policy changes leave some at-risk students worried

COVID-19 policy changes leave some at-risk students worried

COVID-19 policy changes leave some at-risk students worried
February 03
12:00 2022

As the COVID-19 omicron variant continues to surge through Texas, some immunocompromised and disabled students are concerned for their health and safety as the University of North Texas declines to offer online options for all classes. 

Certain students feel as though they are being forced to attend in-person classes, including Marianna De Leon, a human development and family science sophomore who has suffered from multiple rare health conditions, including cancer.

I try to be understanding that it’s not easy to offer everything fully virtual, but I think more needs to be done,” De Leon said. “It’s frustrating that we’re trying to speak to admin about wanting options and I feel like we aren’t heard.”

Other concerns from students include the discontinuation of the COVID-19 hotline and adjustments to contract tracing procedures.

Elizabeth With, senior vice president for Student Affairs, said those who report a positive COVID-19 test result are now being asked to notify their close contacts. This process was previously carried out by the UNT contact tracing team, although With said it is still available to assist students.

With the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines changing to a five day isolation period, it was no longer feasible for UNT to trace and notify close contacts,” With said. “Our team is still available for questions, concerns, reporting, etc., but we are just not doing it by phone any longer.”

Additionally, students have spoken out against UNT’s choice to stop offering alternative housing for students who live on campus and have tested positive. 

“The university cannot continue to absorb costs associated with a student needing to isolate or quarantine much in the same way we have not done that in the past for other illnesses,” With said. “We know things are difficult right now and we will work with our students to help accommodate them whenever possible.”

Former UNT student Jenna Thurman said she decided to leave UNT due to the lack of online options, as she is immunocompromised and has been hospitalized both times she has caught COVID-19. 

With how the pandemic was being handled, I didn’t feel safe on campus anymore,” Thurman said. “I sat down with my family and decided that risking my health is not a viable option, so I switched to an online university.”

A protest was held on Jan. 28 to advocate for online options for classes, and a student petition has surpassed 4,700 signatures, but UNT has yet to make changes. 

“UNT officials made the decision to continue the full university experience due to our later January start date and after carefully considering the impact of full remote learning on all of our students,” With said. “With masks and vaccinations strongly encouraged, and the response to both that we have seen from the UNT community, we feel that remaining in person is the best way we can serve our students.”

Some faculty members have been feeling increased stress as well. Yolanda Mitchell, an assistant professor in the College of Education, suffers from long-term effects of COVID-19, such as post-viral cough syndrome. Mitchell said she faces difficulties conducting her in-person class. 

“My classes are face-to-face, and I’m honest with my students, I tell them what’s going on,” Mitchell said. “I tell them so that they hopefully recognize that I understand the impact of what’s going on.”

Professors have to teach their class in the method that it was originally designed to be taught and cannot change in-person classes to online or hybrid methods, Mitchell said. This leaves many students no option but to miss class completely if they are sick or feel unsafe in person. 

“We have a lot of students on our campus who are under-resourced for a variety of reasons, and we have so many different needs,” Mitchell said.  “I think we can all do better with trying to meet the needs of our students, whether that’s offering online courses, remote courses, hybrid courses, I think there is a way we can work through this.”

With said the administration feels that remaining in person is the best way they can serve students and UNT’s Office of Disability Access, as well as academic advisors, can work with students to identify options to accommodate remote learning on a case-by-case basis.

Featured Image: A mask sits on the ground outside of the Union on Jan. 28, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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