COVID TEACHING FAQ

UMFA’s Organizing and Communications Committee COVID-19 sub-committee (OCC-C), with input from the UMFA Executive, has developed this FAQ as a resource for UMFA members with teaching responsibilities. Some questions address matters of policy (e.g., the UM’s new policy on not requiring doctors’ notes for short-term illnesses), while other questions address suggestions that members may choose to take up or not as they see fit.  We acknowledge and appreciate the wealth of expertise and experience among the UMFA membership and the academic freedom that is central to your teaching.

SYMPTOMS AND ATTENDANCE

Q: If a student is symptomatic, may I require them not to attend?

You can encourage but not require that they not attend, and you can remind them of UM policy

Q: If a student misses a class due to being symptomatic, what accommodations am I required to make?

Students are not required to report to you that they have COVID-19 symptoms. The new UM policy no longer requires students to provide a doctor’s note for illnesses that result in absences of 72 hours or less. 

If students have an illness or disability that will affect their course participation in a substantive and ongoing manner, they can be encouraged to meet with Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to develop an individualized accommodation plan that can be shared with all their instructors. Instructors are required to accommodate students on the basis of their SAS letters, but will be able to provide input as to how best to accommodate students in their course.

In the shorter term, whether a student is missing class because of COVID-like symptoms or other reasons, you can follow the same approach you use for any student absence. This approach should be communicated in your course outline according to ROASS policy.  It is also important to consider any unique attendance policies and requirements your unit/program may have.

Note that you are NOT required to record and post your classes nor are you required to deliver your courses in a hybrid format (i.e., with some students attending virtually and some attending in person). 

Q: How can I make sure that symptomatic students do not feel obligated to attend class?

The way you plan and implement your course can support students staying home when sick. For example, reconsider whether in-class participation grades are appropriate to include in your course during a timeframe when unprecedented levels of absences can be expected. Also, instead of having a certain number of graded activities such as in-class quizzes that are all mandatory, consider making provisions so that if students complete a certain amount, they will still receive full grades (e.g., 4/5 quizzes will count towards the final grade). These strategies can alleviate pressure on students to attend class while ill, and reduce the number of make-up activities you need to schedule and oversee.

Q: Should I be scheduling extra meetings/office hours to deal with student absences?

Whether you should schedule extra meetings/office hours with students to deal with their absences is up to you to decide, balancing the need to be supportive to students and to guard against overwork.

Q: If I have symptoms of COVID-19, can I teach my class via Zoom, or must I cancel and reschedule my class?

Policies about this are determined by deans and directors. Ask your Department Head or equivalent what the policies are in your unit so you know what to expect.

Q: If my program has an attendance policy, what are some strategies that I can employ to add flexibility to my class in case of student illness?

Instructors can, if appropriate:

  • Reconsider whether in-class participation grades are appropriate during a timeframe when numbers of absences are likely to be higher.
  • Reduce the number of mandatory graded in-class activities, and/or implement an approach where if students complete a certain minimum number of mandatory activities (e.g., 4/5), they get full marks.
  • Invite students to buddy up with one another to provide each other with notes and materials from any missed classes.

CLASSROOM POLICIES

Q: Can I demand classroom changes from the university to have a classroom large enough to ensure social distancing measures (even if the university has dropped social distancing requirements)?

Unfortunately you cannot demand classroom changes unless you have a medical accommodation that has been granted by the employer. However, you should document your concerns about any space/distancing issues with your Department Head or equivalent and request their input/ideas on any available options. 

Q: If a student requires clear, plastic masks as an accommodation (i.e. for lip reading), can I decline that accommodation and wear a mask that I feel more comfortable/safe in (i.e. KN95) and request/suggest alternative accommodations for the student?

Accommodations are formally documented requirements, such as those implemented by Student Accessibility Services (SAS), on the basis of a recognized disability. We have yet to see a case where an SAS letter of accommodation requests that instructors wear a particular kind of mask.  If this should happen to you, or you encounter any other accommodation in a letter from SAS that requires you to take particular action you are uncomfortable with, we invite you to contact the UMFA office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for advice. 

If a student requests that you wear a clear plastic mask, you can decline and if applicable note that a KN-95 is your preference.

Q: Can I host office hours on Zoom even if classes are in-person?

ROASS requires that instructors “be available for a reasonable amount of time, on a known and posted basis, for individual consultation with Students registered in their courses or laboratories” 2.9 (d). However, ROASS does not specify the format (e.g., virtual or in-person) by which instructors must be available, so you can choose your preferred format.

Q: If the university drops the mask mandate in future, can I still voluntarily wear a mask in class?

Yes, if you want to wear a mask for safety, you can do so regardless of a mask mandate (or lack thereof).

STUDENT EVALUATION POLICIES

Q: May I request a special classroom for students to complete tests or other course activities to ensure social distancing?

UM administration has made clear that social distancing is no longer required on campus. You can ask your Department Head or equivalent for extra room for particular activities and see what options, if any, might be available to you. In general, it’s a good practice to make these requests by e-mail to have a record.

Q: Can I put a “no rescheduled tests unless there is a doctor’s note” policy on my syllabus?

The UM has implemented a new policy indicating that doctors’ notes are not required for short-term absences. . Your syllabus and approach to addressing student absences should reflect this institutional policy.

Q: What supports are available to accommodate deferred assessments so I am not required to increase my workload to accommodate deferrals or sacrifice vacation/after-hours time?

Section 16.2 of the Collective Agreement requires that “administrative support shall, as far as practicable, be made available to Members for University business, such as teaching, research and professional activities.” Priorities for the allocation of administrative support are determined by the Dean, so administrative support may look different from unit to unit. You are encouraged to ask your Department Head or equivalent about available supports, and, if none are available, to request some. Also, you can talk to other colleagues about the need for administrative support, and to raise the issue in faculty and department meetings where a unified request can be directed toward administration from numerous colleagues at once.

WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

Q: What can I do about other university employees not wearing masks at work?

Unfortunately, the administration is allowing employees to not wear masks in some circumstances. If you feel this is creating an unsafe work environment consider discussing your concerns in a respectful way with the person(s) in question – this is part of fostering a culture on campus that supports everyone wearing masks for the safest possible workplace. You can also communicate your concerns to your Department Head or equivalent and to the UMFA office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Q: Can I refuse to teach in a space that is not adequately ventilated?

Under the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Act, every worker has the right to refuse unsafe work. While you may exercise this right, unfortunately, the government’s bar for what counts as unsafe conditions in the context of COVID-19 is extremely high, and there is no requirement that workspaces have MERV-13 filtration or HEPA filters to be considered safe. If you are thinking about exercising your right to refuse unsafe work, you are encouraged to contact the UMFA Office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Q: How can I request air quality data for my assigned classroom or laboratory?

To request air quality data for your assigned classroom or laboratory, or to request for the air in your workspace be tested, ask the Environmental Health and Safety Office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for any available testing data and/or to conduct testing of your spaces. Please copy UMFA This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on your request.

UMFA has easy-to-use CO2 monitors that you can borrow to test your workspace. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to borrow one. CO2 levels are one indicator of air quality and show the levels of CO2 (generated by people breathing out) accumulating from the occupants in a space. If CO2 levels are high, this can be used to request UM administration do additional testing (e.g., of air circulation and turnover, etc.).

Q: Can I request that my classroom or teaching space have a portable HEPA filtration unit or Corsi-Rosenthal air filter box?

You can ask your Department Head or equivalent for a portable HEPA filter. UM administration does not currently support the use of Corsi-Rosenthal boxes on campus.

Q: How do I request a personal microphone for teaching in large spaces?

Contact your Department Head or equivalent to purchase headset microphones for teaching.