Hybrid, in-person classes not required to move online if student tests positive

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Photo Credit: Sophia Solomon | Daily Texan Staff

With UT reporting 1,117 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday evening, some hybrid and in-person classes are making adjustments for when students test positive for or have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. 

UT’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost created a COVID-19 exposure guide for faculty to provide recommendations and rules for how to handle coronavirus cases in class. Dave Junker, advertising associate professor of instruction, said he moved his Life of the Mind class entirely online last week when some students reported they would be self-quarantining.  

“A total of four students decided that they were going to self-quarantine because either someone in their dorm tested positive or they think they had been exposed in some way,” Junker said. “When the risk seems kind of high, I fully anticipate moving the class to all-online for a week or two or three weeks as needed.”

Kathleen Harrison, communications manager for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, said handling in-person classes is up to the professor and department. The guide outlines steps for professors to take if a student has been potentially exposed, experienced symptoms or has tested positive. 

Junker said he resumed in-person classes this week but gave students the option to participate fully online for the rest of the semester. Junker said if someone in the class tests positive, the course will move entirely online for at least two weeks.

“I feel pretty safe with the way the class is … being handled,” said Reagan Fuller, a speech, language and hearing sciences junior in Junker’s class. “My professor has made it a point that if you do not feel safe, you don't have to come in.”

If a student tests positive in a class, the professor is not allowed to tell the other students because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to the guide. Instead, students in the class will get one of two notices: a general notice that a classmate tested positive or a directed notice given to close contacts, according to the guide.

“Since faculty and TAs do not have a health provider relationship with the student, the faculty member or TA should not alert the class, because that would be a violation of FERPA in the same way that divulging information about disability accommodations or grades is not allowed,” the guide said. 

Other courses, such as philosophy graduate student Michael Dale’s Contemporary Moral Problems class, will continue in-person sessions even if there is a positive student case. Government freshman Lauren Post skipped Dale’s in-person class this week to get tested after she received an email that a classmate tested positive. 

Post said Dale is allowing students with COVID-19 concerns to view the class online since the student tested positive, but she is unsure how long that will continue. Dale declined multiple requests for comment. 

Post said she would want class to move online for two weeks and return to in-person classes after.

“He’s giving us the option by saying you can participate more online and come back whenever you're comfortable, but I think he should have just made the decision for everybody instead of leaving it up to the students,” Post said