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University confirms return to in-person learning, students ‘expected’ to wear KN95 or N95 masks

Professors must wear masks while teaching, AU says

Provost Peter Starr and other American University officials answered students’ frequently asked questions about the return to campus at the AU Student Academic Forum Thursday and a community forum Tuesday.

At the academic forum, hosted by Student Government President Chyna Brodie, Starr said he is confident the University will return to in-person learning as scheduled on Jan. 31.

“There’s a growing consensus that we need to live with the [coronavirus] to get on with our lives,” Starr said. “We need to bring students back to campus, beyond the [reduced number of] students on campus right now.”

Starr said the likelihood of virtual learning past Jan. 31 remains slim.

“We are very determined to stay face-to-face for the remainder of the semester,” he said. “The University had very low [COVID-19] caseloads in the fall semester, then the omicron variant came.”

Starr said the risk associated with returning to in-person classes is fairly low, given D.C. is two weeks past the peak of omicron in the region. Because evidence suggests that the transmission rate of COVID-19 in classrooms is low, Starr said the University should prioritize in-person learning and socialization.

In-person classes: What you need to know

In the community forum Tuesday, Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, said students are expected to wear a KN95 or N95 mask at all times indoors and in public spaces on campus. While the current mask requirement remains in place, the University will provide KN95 masks beginning this month. University spokesperson Beth Deal confirmed to The Eagle after the forum that students are expected, but not required, to wear KN95 or N95 masks.

Distribution points will be in the library, Mary Graydon Center, the first floor of the School of International Service, the Spring Valley Building and the Washington College of Law. Students are permitted one mask per week, and can pick them up during their respective hours of operation.

“The idea that there will be folks who are patrolling at all times is simply not realistic, so we need to get to the place where there needs to be shared community responsibility,” Aw said in reference to enforcement.

Aw said she strongly recommends students wear masks outdoors for the protection of themselves and others.

Starr said all faculty are required to be fully masked while teaching “for the foreseeable future.” During the fall semester, use of masks was strongly encouraged, but professors were permitted to teach without masks

Dean of Students Jeffrey Brown said when a student tests positive for COVID-19 on campus, the Office of Dean of Students will notify the student, and any students or faculty members determined a close contact that same day.

If students test positive for COVID-19, Brown said he recommends they communicate with their professors to remain up-to-date with coursework if they feel well enough.

Starr noted the administration is doing “everything [they] can” to accommodate students who want to continue learning virtually, but said the hybrid model is not feasible.

“It is difficult for the faculty member and it is difficult for the student to opt for online learning when classes go back face-to-face,” Starr said.

Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services, said that while professors have altered teaching strategies to better accommodate virtual learners — such as requesting that professors post presentation slides online or sharing notes with a classmate — the ideal academic experience is in person.

“When classes go face-to-face, we want you there,” Waters said.

To better accommodate students, the University is offering 174 undergraduate classes entirely online this semester. Starr also said virtual classes are also available through the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan area.

Brontè Burleigh-Jones, chief financial officer, said there will be no changes allowed to meal plans. All dining locations will open beginning on Monday, and seating is available in Terrace Dining Room and Subway. 

University officials explain academic operations and tuition

Earlier this month, students petitioned to lower the cost of the spring semester due to the three-week period of virtual learning. Starr said the University will not give a tuition discount this semester.

“We are very, very committed to the proposition that online learning and face-to-face learning are fundamentally equivalent,” Starr said. “We charge exactly the same tuition for online and face-to-face instruction.”

Starr said that last year’s 10 percent tuition discount was a “community of care” discount, unrelated to the modality of classes. Since there is no economic necessity this year, according to Starr, tuition will remain the same.

Waters said that the University is adhering to the academic calendar as posted for the remainder of the semester; including spring break as originally scheduled.

Waters also said the University is back to standard pass/fail policies: undergraduate students may take up to four courses with the pass/fail option during their time at AU, which only applies to elective credit hours.

Wendy Boland, dean of graduate and professional studies, said that the pass/fail policy will remain the same for graduate students: there are no pass/fail options unless the course is listed as pass/fail.

The Academic Support and Access Center will continue to offer their services virtually, according to Waters. Academic advisors are available virtually and will be available in person by appointment beginning Jan. 31.

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