UFF calls for all-virtual classes in fall semester amid COVID-19 surge

Union cites virus' significant transmission as reason campuses should remain closed

Back to campus....or back to online classes? Tens of thousands of higher education employees are calling for the campuses to stay shut for now.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A major organization for higher education employees is calling for all Florida institutions to transition to remote learning for at least the fall 2020 semester.

The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) made the announcement Monday, having sent letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials.

“We love face-to-face teaching and miss our students, but as much as our faculty and students fervently wish to get back to our classrooms, the steadily rising COVID-19 infections and deaths warn against it,” UFF President Karen Morian said. “We all want to reopen our campuses but, more importantly, for them to remain open in the long term. Our students, faculty, staff and many administrators are gravely concerned about early reopenings; we all deserve safe learning and working conditions.”

According to the union, less than 40% of the reopening plans that were put together in May and June have been revised since the recent surge of COVID-19 infections in Florida.

“If our institutions become hot-spots due to early reopenings, closing campuses mid-term once again would do real harm, mentally, physically and economically,” Morian said. “Bringing faculty and students back to college and university campuses in the fall may achieve a Pyrrhic victory, at best.”

The union said that current reopening plans don’t adequately address protocols for sick students, sick faculty, on-campus housing in the event of an outbreak, testing or tracing. The union added that all of these shortcomings will very likely lead to lawsuits.

A spokesperson for the Florida Board of Governors, which is the governing body of the State University System of Florida, issued a statement Monday:

“Universities designed their plans with the agility necessary to respond to changed conditions and enhance the resiliency of each institution,” spokesperson Renee Fargason said. “As stated in our Blueprint for Reopening Campuses, the foundational priority of each university’s plan will be the health and welfare of all students, faculty, staff, vendors, volunteers, and visitors.”

Multiple state universities, including the University of North Florida, will begin classes on August 17.

About the Author:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.