Allow professors with unvaccinated children to teach virtually

Julia Zaksek , Associate Editor

On Aug. 9, UT announced new guidelines for faculty accommodations during in-person classes. Faculty members who are immunocompromised or have immunocompromised dependents can request to teach their classes completely online for the first three weeks. However, faculty members with dependents who are under 12, and thus not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, are not permitted to be fully virtual. 

This week, Austin area hospitals reached full capacity in their pediatric intensive care units, and COVID-19 numbers continue to surge. 

UT must offer all faculty with children under 12 the option to teach classes remotely until a pediatric vaccine is developed and teaching in person will no longer put professors’ children at risk. 

Concerned about UT’s accommodations, associate classics professor Ayelet Haimson Lushkov authored a petition urging UT to allow professors with young children to teach online.

“We received a communication from the dean about who was allowed to switch to online, and it explicitly stated that parents of children under 12 were not eligible,” Lushkov said in an email. “Since vaccination isn’t available to (kids) under 12, this seemed an unfair demand and certainly a cruel one: nobody should have to risk exposing their vulnerable family to COVID, especially when the technology is available to keep everyone safe.”

The petition has received over a hundred signatures, with multiple signers listing their name as well as the ages of their young children. 

Concern for her young children, who are ages two and seven, prompted Micheal Sandbank, special education assistant professor, to sign the petition. 

“My biggest concern is that delta is so transmissible that I would get a breakthrough infection that I would then bring home to my children,” Sandbank said. “Because they’re not protected, there is a possibility that their infection is quite severe and that could happen at a time when there is almost no room in the ICU and the pediatric ICU.”

Any healthcare emergency, COVID-19 related or otherwise, has the potential to be fatal when hospitals and ICU units are at capacity. 

“I’m concerned about COVID-19, but I’m also concerned about car accidents,” Sandbank said. “When there’s no room at the ICU, it’s for anything. The concern is that my children are going to have a severe healthcare need and not be able to get the treatment they need.”

Joey Williams, director of communications for the Office of the Executive Vice President & Provost, said UT will evaluate all petitions submitted to the dean. 

“University leadership welcomes feedback from campus stakeholders through many avenues, including petitions,” Williams said in an emailed statement. “Valuable feedback helps leadership better understand issues on campus.”

If UT does value the feedback of its faculty, it must act quickly to implement accommodations for professors. 

Teaching in person is undeniably risky with Austin at the highest stage of COVID-19 risk-based guidelines and little room in hospitals. Professors also have no way of knowing if the students in their class are vaccinated, and they are not permitted to enforce masking in classrooms. 

“Under these conditions, it is all but guaranteed that some of us will bring the virus home to our families, and to our vulnerable children,” the petition states.

Faculty should be permitted to assess their own comfort level and switch to remote teaching if they are concerned about the health and well-being of their children. 

Zaksek is a women’s and gender studies and Plan II senior from Allen, TX.