WLUFA update on return to in-person teaching and COVID protocols

Dear Members – 

As we embark on a new term, WLUFA has received a number of communications from our members expressing often deep concern regarding their health, safety and rights as we partially resume in-person teaching.  The WLUFA Executive would like to update you on some of the issues and advocacy the Association has been involved in relating to the return to work, particularly for those of our members teaching in-person classes. Due to the numerous issues that have been raised, we are not able to provide an exhaustive list in this communication, but we do want to provide you highlights of some of the more current issues. 

 

 Faculty Enforcement of Student Mandatory Training on MyLearningSpace 

We have received inquiries from some members about a section of the September 9th email that went out from the Provost & VP: Academic entitled “Mandatory Training on MyLearningSpace” that can be read as assigning faculty the role of checking for completion certificates from their students for the required  “COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Students on Campus” on MyLearningSpace. While the instructions appear to make this a voluntary undertaking for faculty, it has led some of our members to wonder whether they might end up with students in their classrooms who are not compliant with University health and safety protocols if they do not personally verify that all of their students have a completed certificate.  WLUFA has contacted the University to remind them that they have agreed that it is not the role of faculty to enforce the University’s health and safety protocols. We also asked them to outline how student compliance will be centrally monitored and how any non-compliance will be centrally managed. We further asked them to provide all of our members with an understanding of that system so as to assure we are entering classrooms in which all students have completed the required health and safety training without the need for us to verify.  We are awaiting their reply. 

  

Incorrect Information on Mandatory MyLearningSpace Training for Faculty 

As part of the return to in-person teaching and on-campus activities, all faculty are required to complete a mandatory “COVID-19 Guidelines for Employees Returning to Work” training via MyLearningSpace. Many of our members have already completed this training. However, we recently discovered that the section entitled “COVID-19 Infection Prevention for In-Person Teaching & Instruction — PHASE 2” contains an outdated file which presents incorrect information about the role of faculty in the classroom.  The old/incorrect version of this instruction assigns an unnecessary policing role to faculty for managing non-compliant students. It reads: 

  

”Any student engaging in unsafe behaviours in the classroom should first be corrected by the member. If any student continues to engage in such behaviours, the faculty member may ask the student to leave the class, or should the student refuse to leave, the faculty may systematically dismiss the class. Any escalation or refusals to leave the class should be referred to Special Constable Service…” 

  

However, the correct and updated version of this instructionas found on page 9 of the   COVID-19 Infection Prevention for In-Person Teaching & Instruction – PHASE 2 (note, you will need to be logged in to your WLU email to access this document), reads: 

  

”It  is  not  the  responsibility  of  faculty  to  implement  or  enforce  the  University’s  COVID  health  and safety protocols.  Any student engaging in unsafe behaviours in the classroom may be prompted to correct that behaviour by the faculty member, but only if the faculty member feels that in doing so they will not be endangering the safety of themselves or their students.  If the faculty member feels the student’s behavior has created an unsafe environment, the faculty member may ask the student to leave the class, or they may immediately dismiss the class and leave the classroom. Any escalation should be referred to Special Constable Service.”

WLUFA has received assurances from the University that this training document will be accordingly updated. However, since so many of our members have completed the training with incorrect information provided, WLUFA has also requested that the University communicate this change more widely to our members. 

 

Member Privacy Concerns 

Some members have expressed concerns to us about the privacy of their personal and medical information, particularly in regard to proof of vaccination and the access that other individuals within the university or third parties might have to that data.   

 

WLUFA is currently following up on those concerns and consulting with other faculty associations about similar situations on their campuses. 

  

Campus Safety Protocols 

Over the past few months WLUFA has been in communication with the University administration over many aspects of the return to work/in-person teaching protocols. As part of the WLUFA Statement on Mandatory Vaccinations we stated: “Since the information on the university’s health and safety protocols has significantly changed since faculty agreed to in-person teaching, WLUFA calls on the administration to stand by the Principles for return to work (2021-2022) and allow those who agreed to in-person teaching, but who now see reason to switch to remote course delivery, to do so.”  We made this request based on the following statement in the Principles document negotiated between WLU and WLUFA: “Faculty will not be asked to agree to in-person teaching until the University provides information on the health and safety protocols that will be in place for classrooms, as defined by Public Health.” 

 

It is quite clear that with the rise of the Delta variant, high but still insufficient vaccination rates, a new rise in case numbers, and a number of other factors, that the public health situation has changed significantly since many of our members agreed to in-person teaching. We are acutely aware that a number of our members are facing those new risks in situations where the safe guard of remote teaching would be a real mitigation factor, particularly those members caring for elderly parents and/or unvaccinated children.  In subsequent meetings with the University we have continued to urge that faculty who have been assigned in person teaching but now feel unsafe doing so be allowed to switch to remote.  As of yet the University has not offered a response on this point, but early indications are that they are turning down such requests. WLUFA is presently seeking legal advice about this issue and will continue to advocate for our members’ rights on this issue.  

 

Accommodations 

Some members have contacted us signaling their intention to file accommodation requests related to the situation they find themselves in with the prospect of returning to in-person, on-campus work. The reasons underlying these requests vary but include seeking accommodation around family and family care circumstances or vaccine exemptions. 

 

The Principles for Return to Work (2021) negotiated between WLU and WLUFA state that “The university will exercise compassion in its application of its accommodation policy and procedures.” It is our view that this clause should widen the grounds upon which the Uuniversity grants accommodations. As many accommodation requests related to the above factors have likely only recently been received by the University, we are not yet aware of how the Human Resources department is applying this widening statement. We have asked the University to provide us with information on how it is being applied. We have also sought preliminary legal advice and will provide our lawyers with further information as it becomes available. Accommodation refusals will be considered on a case-by-case basis by our Grievance Committee, but if we believe a refusal was incorrectly issued, we are ready to take action. If you feel you have had an accommodation request unfairly refused, please contact our office (wlufa@wlu.ca). 

 

While the information provided above is not a complete list of the activities we have been engaged in regarding the return to in-person, on-campus teaching we do hope it provides you with some sense of the depth and scope of our activism on these issues. If you have a particular issue you would like to discuss or are concerned about something we have not addressed please do not hesitate to contact us (wlufa@wlu.ca). 

 

WLUFA’s advocacy is aimed squarely at ensuring our members receive all the necessary components to ensure their health, safety, and rights. These are very trying times, and the challenges are many. We will get through this, together. 

 

In solidarity, 

The WLUFA Executive Committee 

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