North Texas Daily

Students petition for online options as spring classes begin in person

Students petition for online options as spring classes begin in person

Students petition for online options as spring classes begin in person
January 27
09:00 2022

The University of North Texas has returned to fully in-person classes for the spring 2022 semester as active COVID-19 cases rise in Texas and some neighboring universities choose to begin the semester online. 

During the first two weeks in January, 4,181 people were tested at the Student Health and Wellness Center, said Kerry Stanhope, assistant director of the Meadows Center for Health Resources. About 1,030 of those tests were positive, giving an average positivity rate of about 25 percent, as compared to a 3 percent positivity rate for the entire fall 2021 semester. This does not include tests done at Curative testing sites on campus, Stanhope said.

“We were on winter break, so students went home [and] faculty and staff traveled to visit family or take vacation time, so part of that is that normal winter holiday travel increase,” Stanhope said. “And then part of that we are attributing to the omicron variant that does transmit through a lot more people than we have been seeing in some of the earlier variants of the coronavirus.”

As of Jan. 21, there are currently 288 active cases within UNT. School officials encourage those returning to campus to wear masks and get vaccinated, but the increased numbers of breakthrough cases occurring with the omicron variant have some students concerned for the health and safety of themselves and others. Integrative studies senior Hannah Larson recently started a petition asking UNT to offer online options for classes. 

“I saw many of my peers tweeting about how anxious they were about returning to their in-person classes and all of their concerns are extremely valid,” Larson said. “I knew that I had to do something.”

The petition asks that students, faculty and staff be given the option to attend the semester online. At the time of writing, it has over 4,300 signatures. 

I am a little surprised by how much traction this has gotten, but at the same time, I knew that a lot of people feel the same way that I do and a lot of people would be in support of the university offering the option to attend online,” Larson said. 

Among supporters was literature professor and Denton City Council member Deb Armintor, who said it was hard to make the classroom a safe space under current circumstances. 

“I believe students are absolutely justified in asking for more online options and I was really pleased to see the petition and proud to support it,” Armintor said. “The first day is always a bit tense when you see this packed room and there’s no way to ask students to distance themselves, the only way to do that is to have some go online.”

Since the pandemic began, Armintor offered her students the option to attend class online via a livestream on Zoom and welcomes any student to participate virtually for any reason. 

“I’m a very old-fashioned teacher, and my example shows that even an instructor who is adverse to teaching a class that’s entirely online, or even feels weird about hybrid class, can have their old-fashioned in-person class and just livestream it,” Armintor said. “I tell [my students] that in my class, even if you don’t have COVID, you can participate online for your own safety.”

Additionally, a student and faculty protest is planned for Jan. 27 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Union South Lawn. 

“I know of a lot of people that have gotten [COVID-19] and I know a lot of people that are still suffering because of it months later,” Larson said. “No one should ever have to risk their lives for an education.”

As of the spring semester, UNT has discontinued the COVID-19 hotline instead, using email service to support students who tested positive. Alternative housing for students who live on campus and test positive is not available. Testing is available at multiple locations on campus, but wait times are sometimes long due to what Stanhope said are staff shortages. 

“Just like everywhere else, we are experiencing some staffing issues,” Stanhope said. “We have set up our hours to provide as much testing as we can within limits to make sure that everything is done by the end of the day.”

Stanhope said that the best way for students to protect themselves is to get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks and stay home if they are sick. Information about on-campus vaccinations and testing can be found on the UNT Health and Wellness Center website

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Jillian Nachtigal

Jillian Nachtigal

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