JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – University of North Florida faculty members laid out their health and safety concerns during the public comment portion of a Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.
Staff members said they want options as the coronavirus delta variant rapidly spreads.
As students prepare to return to campus on Aug. 23, faculty members told News4Jax that they’re nervous about the lack of flexibility for teaching methods and that the university is not implementing the same mask mandate as last year. The university has said it “expects” everyone to wear a mask, but made it clear that facing coverings won’t be required as a condition for campus access.
Effective immediately, in light of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, UNF expects everyone to wear a mask at all times when inside around others in any UNF facility, even if you are vaccinated. 😷— University of North Florida (@UofNorthFlorida) August 10, 2021
Read more ➡️ https://t.co/IO6YPFUU6x #UNFBetterStronger pic.twitter.com/4W7G1RZYhB
A group of faculty gathered Thursday morning outside the UNF Board of Trustees meeting. They hoisted signs and rallied, asking for virtual learning options this fall.
“The goal today is to allow faculty some choice and flexibility as to how they’re going to teach their classes this coming fall, to be able to choose when they would potentially like to do online versus in person, if they feel like being in person with 200 people all close together is going to be problematic for the community safety, their family safety, as well as their own personal safety,” said Elizabeth Brown, vice president of United Faculty of Florida. “They want to be able to have that flexibility, that freedom, that ability to choose what’s going to be right for them for their educational needs.”
There’s a reason that they weren’t rallying earlier this summer.
“Faculty made their choices about what classes they were going to teach before the delta variant at a time when everyone was getting vaccines and things were looking up and things were looking great,” Brown explained.
But the faculty members said the late-summer surge of the delta variant changes things and should change the thinking of the university’s Board of Trustees and the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.
“The fact that there’s no vaccine mandate, there’s not even a mask mandate, it just makes it this perfect storm that makes it really difficult for me to, and I have to put my kids first,” said Elizabeth Hale, an assistant professor at UNF.
Several faculty members and administrators spoke up in the Board of Trustees meeting, as well.
Trustee John White admonished the DeSantis administration.
“It puts a political agenda that’s decidedly non-data driven about the welfare of our students and our educators,” White said. “Our students, the future of our state and the future of our nation deserve better. It is time for our leaders, all of us to do the right thing.”
The faculty members said they want to see a similar strategy as last year, with masks, remote learning and the added benefit of COVID-19 vaccine access.