COVID Safety in the Classroom at WWU, Fall Quarter 2021

Information for Faculty and Suggested Syllabus Language.

Everyone in the WWU community plays an important role to ensure that we limit community spread of the Coronavirus as the number of people on campus increases dramatically compared to the 2020-2021 academic year. You can view updated COVID-19 information on Western's COVID Recovery Status website here. You should also consult the most up-to-date MOU between WWU and UFWW on COVID-19 related working conditions.

As you probably know, all students are required to be fully vaccinated before fall quarter starts unless they have a medical or religious exemption. For each of your classes, information regarding students who have not been cleared as having met the vaccination/exemption requirement will be shared on the photo roster for your course. Those students will be notified in advance that they are not allowed to come to campus and can’t attend class face-to-face. They will be referred to the Dean of Student Life, who will determine the consequences for their non-compliance. You will also be informed of the percentage of students who are fully vaccinated in each of your courses.

We would like to update you on the progress of vaccination among the Western community. As of August 31, more than 10,500 registered Western students had submitted proof of vaccination. Among employees, 78 percent of all employees and 84 percent of permanent employees had submitted proof of vaccination, also as of August 31. For students, the number of waivers granted, including for both medical and religious reasons, is currently just over 1% of the anticipated fall enrollment.

Employees and students with an approved waiver will be required to follow additional safety protocols:

  • Unvaccinated employees and students that have any on-site presence, will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing as directed by Human Resources (employees) or the Student Health Center (students).

  • If an unvaccinated employee or student gets COVID-19 or reports being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, that person will be required to isolate or quarantine away from others and will be prohibited from having any on-site presence for a minimum of 10-14 days, as required by the local health department.

  • In the event of a campus-wide COVID-19 outbreak, they will be prohibited from having any onsite presence until control of the outbreak has been announced.

The University has taken the following steps to ensure compliance and encourage vaccination among its students:

  • Messaging has been sent to students and their families about the policy requirements through the following formats:

    • Western Today

    • Social media

    • Family Newsletter

    • Direct email

    • Texting

  • Students are not allowed to move into any campus residence until they have been cleared for the vaccination mandate.

  • Students are submitting copies of their COVID vaccine cards through their student health portal. Those are being screened. If suspicious or illegible, they are being rejected, and the student is asked to re-submit.

  • To get an exemption, students must complete the COVID training course on Canvas and submit appropriate documentation supporting a medical or religious waiver.

  • As we narrow the pool of students who have not complied, we are engaging in more targeted emails and texts to them and their families, explaining the consequences of non-compliance.

  • Also, our messaging includes information about the additional requirements (e.g. COVID testing, the need to isolate and quarantine if exposed, the need to stay away from campus in an increased outbreak) for all unvaccinated students.

While requesting a medical or religious exemption to the vaccination requirement is an option for students, there are some courses for which all participants must be vaccinated because the risk of contracting COVID-19 to the participants simply cannot be mitigated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of the course for teaching and learning. The University has established a process for petitioning to require full vaccination of all students in a class. These requests should be discussed with your academic department and college dean, who has the form to complete.

In addition to the vaccination mandate, current policies for fall quarter 2021 include the requirement that all staff, faculty and students wear masks while indoors in any group setting. If a student comes to class and is non-compliant with the vaccine mandate or is not properly wearing a mask, you have the following options:

  1. Offer the student a mask if they need one. Masks will be available in each building and in or near each classroom.

  2. Communicate directly with the student to remind them of the requirements and the need to protect the health of everyone in the class through their compliance.

  3. Failing that option, as the manager of the classroom space, you have the authority to tell the student who is non-compliant to leave the classroom or instructional space. We encourage you to include this information in your syllabus (see suggested language below) to make this clear for all students participating in your courses.

  4. If a student then refuses to leave class and continues with their unsafe behavior at this point, you are advised to consider cancelling the class session and referring the matter as a possible violation of the Student Code of Conduct. In situations in which students fail to wear a mask properly or meet other COVID-related restrictions faculty may make a complaint through the student conduct process. Staff in the Office of Student Life are available to assist you in responding in these sorts of situations.

  5. If a student acts in a belligerent or threatening way in the classroom, you also have the option of contacting the University Police Department at (360) 650-3911.

We expect some students, even among the vaccinated student population, to test positive for COVID during Fall Quarter and miss class as a result. Most of these absences likely will be handled as with any absences from class due to illness. It is NOT an expectation that you create a parallel online course to deliver classroom content for any student or students required to self-isolate or be in quarantine. If the illness develops further, a more-lengthy absence may be necessary. This situation is less common but still occurs routinely during all quarters. In all COVID cases the Student Health Center will work with instructors, students, and the Office of Student Life regarding excused absences and when necessary extended leaves of absence.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU EXPECT? If the past 18 months has taught us anything, it is that predicting the course of the pandemic is not possible. As the virus itself mutates, the knowledge we have about the virus will change and that updated knowledge will influence the measures needed to keep everyone as safe as possible.

  • Anxiety. The daily stress of the virus uncertainty, the constant headlines, concern for family and friends, the stress of the workplace, isolation, returning to work, vaccinations, etc. are all contributing to some anxiety. Everyone has experienced or will experience some level of anxiety; it will affect everyone differently, at different times, with different intensity, and over different durations.

  • Amidst the change and uncertainty, many will desire absolute answers to specific circumstances. The university will not be able to develop policies and procedures for every scenario nor will we be able to police or enforce every individual decision, action, or behavior. Our collective success will be dependent on good judgment, constructive communications, and concern for each other.

  • Vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine has received permanent approval from the FDA, and it seems likely that others will receive a similar approval. It looks like children 5 and older may become eligible for the vaccine this fall. That could have trickle down impacts to our Western community as those with school-age children work through those logistics.

  • Booster Shots. Health officials are recommending booster shots starting this fall for people 15 and older who have received the Pfizer vaccine. Indications are the other vaccines will also require a booster. How and when this rollout happens are yet to be determined.

Your contribution as a faculty member towards our collective safety and success this quarter is essential. We all have a common interest in transitioning back to our on-campus instructional programs this year within the constraints of the pandemic. Thank you for everything you’ve done to support students during the last year+ of mostly remote learning and for your commitment to your students this fall.

We recommend that faculty consider including information about COVID-19 safety in their course syllabi so that this information is clearly reinforced (see suggested language below).

Suggested syllabus language

COVID-19 Safety Information for Students

Due to the ongoing risk of community spread of COVID-19, WWU students are reminded that proper use of masks is required in all indoor spaces on campus and WWU transportation. Your cooperation will play an important role in preventing COVID-19 transmission and keeping our classroom spaces open for face-to-face instruction. You should stay home if you have any possible COVID-19 symptoms. If you have symptoms and need to stay home, or if you are instructed to isolate due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or close contact with a diagnosed person, you should contact your instructor to make alternate arrangements for completing assigned class work, as you would for any illness or injury that prevents in-person participation in the class.

If you disregard this mandate (including anyone wearing a mask improperly) you are potentially putting your classmates at risk, which is against the expectations of the WWU Student Code of Conduct. If a faculty member identifies an unsafe situation in the class, they have the authority to tell any student contributing to the problem to change their unsafe behavior or, failing that, to direct the student to leave the place where the class is taking place.