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Return to campus update

Message from Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice-president (academic)

Campus and Community

By Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk

As announced last week, Memorial will return to in-person teaching and learning effective Monday, Jan. 31.

Over the past few days we have heard from students, faculty and staff expressing many perspectives and feelings on the decision — from apprehension and concern to relief and excitement, and all that falls in the middle.

We recognize that the return to campus is causing concern for some, and hope that the following information is helpful for all who have questions. These decisions were not easy or made lightly. Please read through the sections that pertain to you as there is a great amount of detail.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, it is imperative that we do everything we can to provide students with fulfilling in-person learning opportunities on all our campuses to meet educational outcomes. Many students have missed out on invaluable in-person learning experiences and co-curricular learning experiences, and some have experienced the loss of connection to peers.

The health and safety of our community is our priority. We have been working very closely with Public Health since the beginning of the pandemic and all major decisions have been informed by its input and general guidance.

Memorial is fortunate to have a very high vaccination rate with 98 per cent of students and employees vaccinated against COVID-19. This positions us well for a return to on-campus instruction. The decision to return to in-person learning also aligns with other Atlantic Canadian universities that are planning to return to in-person instruction on or before Jan. 31 and the province’s K-12 school system, which resumed in-person instruction on Jan. 25.

This update contains the following:

  • Preventing COVID-19 transmission on campus — mask update
  • Course drop deadline extension
  • Class flexibility and accommodations
  • Guidance for COVID-19 exposure
  • Course assessments for the winter 2022 semester
  • Sharing information

Preventing COVID-19 transmission on campus — mask update

The best way to prevent COVID-19 spread is with layered protection, and this is consistent with the approach Memorial has taken with the vaccine mandate, mandatory three-ply masks, asymptomatic rapid testing, wastewater testing, density requirements, cleaning and hygiene and ventilation standards for classrooms and labs.

Memorial is updating the mask mandate with the requirement that a well-fitting, three-ply non-medical mask be worn at all times in classrooms, labs and in clinical and practicum settings. Masks cannot be lowered in these rooms for drinking or eating. Drinking and eating must be done outside the teaching and learning environment in designated areas where distancing can be maintained to ensure that everyone is protected as much as possible. Designated areas for eating at each campus will be communicated by the respective campus. Students may choose to wear their own N95 or KN95 masks. Note that the effectiveness of an N95 mask depends on whether or not the wearer has been properly fitted. Masks are not required when in an office or study room alone.

Anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 cannot come to any of Memorial’s campuses or facilities. Students and employees are expected to use the COVID-19 self-assessment in the MUN Safe app prior to coming to campus each day. Please note that class and labmates, who are wearing masks for all interactions, are not considered close contacts.

Post-secondary institutions are exempt from the Public Health guidelines for gathering size, given the extensive controls in place and the classification of schools as essential activities. Classrooms are considered low risk and Memorial has kept capacity levels to fall 2021 levels. Activities that are higher risk are dealt with by looking at the existing health and safety recommendations and requirements from Public Health. With bigger classes online, traffic is minimized in hallways and other areas.

Members of the university are also encouraged to consider getting booster vaccinations to enhance protection.

Course drop deadline extension

Those who may wish to drop a course as a result of the return to in-person learning have until 11:59 p.m.(NST) Sunday, Jan. 30, to drop and receive a 100 per cent refund. This can be completed through Memorial Self-Service. The 50 per cent refund date will be adjusted to Feb. 6 and the 25 per cent refund date will be adjusted to Feb 13.

Classes where seats remain available may also be added with instructor and department head approval. For any student that dropped a course after the original deadline, the university will process a refund. Students who are considering adding a course to their course schedules are encouraged to do so as soon as possible through a course change form.

Marine Institute students are encouraged to contact studentsupport@mi.mun.ca for questions on courses.

Class flexibility and informal accommodations

Students who are immunocompromised or live with individuals who are immunocompromised and who choose not to attend in-person classes due to personal health risks can discuss potential informal accommodations with instructors on a course-by-course basis. In courses where attendance is required and has been approved by Senate, instructors are encouraged to be flexible and consider alternate means for students to meet requirements of attendance and/or participation.

If a student is unable to reach an instructor or come to a reasonable solution, they should contact the department head/program chair/associate dean/dean who is responsible for the course. At Grenfell Campus, students can contact info@grenfell.mun.ca; at the Marine Institute, students can contact studentsupport@mi.mun.ca. At the St. John’s campus, students can contact studentsupport@mun.ca. Students are not required to submit medical documentation if they cannot come to class due to illness that is related to COVID-19 and the ongoing pandemic.

Instructors are encouraged to work with students requesting informal accommodations to ensure they are able to progress through their courses. If accommodations cannot be provided because of specific learning outcomes, students can drop courses throughout the semester.

To enable informal accommodations, instructors can plan for instructional flexibility by:

  • adding Webex meetings to courses in Brightspace;
  • adapting remote teaching materials from the prior academic year for in-person teaching this winter schedule;
  • sharing class recordings if in a lecture-capture classroom;
  • sharing slide presentations in PDF format; and
  • audio recording lectures on a smartphone for posting and sharing in Brightspace.

There are a variety of solutions for scenarios where students cannot attend in-person classes. The Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning has created resources and supports to assist instructors in planning for such scenarios. Further information is available on the CITL Instructional Continuity website. CITL staff are available to support instructors during this time and also to help instructors identify the right solutions to assist with accommodating students who may not be able to come to campus due to COVID-19. Academic staff are reminded of the following resources and hands-on supports:

  • Support Centre – Available during extended evening and weekend hours for inquiries related to teaching and learning, technical support for learning technologies and examinations for online courses. Also connects visitors to other CITL staff, services and resources.
  • Learning Technology Coaches – Coaches support instructors with the implementation of learning technologies for instruction, such as Brightspace and Webex.
  • Classroom Support – For instructors teaching on campus, Classroom Support offices will be open and will provide frontline support for instructors who need assistance with existing technology in classrooms and learning spaces on the St. John’s campus. For support with multimedia and audiovisual technologies in the classroom, email csupport@mun.ca. For classroom support at MI, email servicedesk@mi.mun.ca. At Grenfell Campus, please contact learningtechnologyspecialist@grenfell.mun.ca or it@grenfell.mun.ca.

Guidance for COVID-19 exposure

The current Public Health guidance around contact tracing is changing based on the provincial update on Jan. 20. The current definition of a close contact for the purposes of contact tracing are individuals within a household with confirmed COVID-19 or with whom interactions occurred without masks (like while eating or drinking) or during sports.

If an individual has tested positive, Public Health guidance advises them to notify close contacts. Individuals are asked to keep track of people with whom they interact when not wearing a mask. Advice for individuals who have been exposed can be found here.

Students living in residence should immediately contact Student Housing at your campus for help and support. At Grenfell Campus, call 637-6266. In St. John’s, email housing@mun.ca.

If an individual is considered positive for COVID-19, either through testing or being a close contact with symptoms, and requires assistance with on-campus close contact notification (unmasked), a reporting form is available in MUN Safe to request assistance.

Risk is determined by level of personal protective equipment, time, space and place. Most university operations would not present conditions for close contact, including classrooms, due to the controls in place. Please contact cro@mun.ca for further advice. During this process, medical information or an individual’s COVID-19 diagnosis will be treated in accordance with best practices for information protection and privacy.

If close contacts are identified, the Office of the Chief Risk Officer (OCRO) will issue letters of advice to units advising them an employee/student has tested positive for COVID-19. It will include:

  • Instructions for contact notification letters;
  • Contacting 8-1-1 for potential PCR tests based on Public Health advice (when applicable); and
  • Testing process prior to return to campus.

If there are close contacts identified in the workplace, it is the unit’s responsibility to provide a list to the OCRO.

If staff are required to isolate, they can work from home if they are well enough, their work is able to be completed remotely and they have their supervisor’s approval. As individuals are notified, it is important that supervisors are cognizant of business continuity and address how a five to seven day absence could impact operations.

Students who must isolate due to COVID-19 requirements should contact their instructors directly regarding their absence and any required accommodations. This information should be treated as confidential. If a student is unable to reach an instructor, students should contact the department head who is responsible for the course. Memorial will make every effort to ensure that all students are able to progress successfully through their course work despite potential challenges associated with COVID-19.

Faculty, staff and students should also download the COVID Alert app, which is designed to let Canadians know whether they may have been exposed to COVID-19. You will be alerted by the COVID Alert app if you come in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Course assessments for the winter 2022 semester

Based on current Public Health guidelines, we expect that on-campus mid-term and final exams/assessments can be held in person provided:

  • They are held in groups of 99 or fewer, invigilators included (e.g. students split between two or more rooms); and
  • An alternative assessment is readily made available to students who cannot attend in-person and may require accommodation (e.g. remote and attending classes in another location, isolation, immunocompromised, etc.).

All instructors are encouraged to review the below selection of resources that CITL has created to inform alternate ways to assess students.

Sharing information

We will share further updates, and important reminders about our safety plan, ahead of returning to campus at the end of the month. Memorial is prepared to change or adjust this decision at any time based on new or changing information.

Campus-specific information is available for Grenfell Campus here and for the Marine Institute here. These sites are updated regularly.

For answers to additional questions, please visit our COVID website. If you cannot find an answer, please reach out to your academic unit or instructor with academic questions and to cro@mun.ca with health and safety concerns. For international students, please reach out to international@mun.ca or international@grenfell.mun.ca for support, questions and concerns.

For information about services to students and the Academic Student Success Centre, visit the MUN Up website.

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