University of Idaho: hold online classes for the safety of everyone

University of Idaho: hold online classes for the safety of everyone

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Holly Kim started this petition to C. Scott Green and

President C. Scott Green

University of Idaho

875 Perimeter Drive

Moscow, ID 83844

July 29, 2020

Dear President C. Scott Green:

The Palouse Community is informed and concerned about the decision to deliver in-person education beginning August 24th for the Fall 2020 semester. Some community members are too afraid to speak up against your decision, afraid their voices will not be heard. We speak as a collective for those people and ourselves by saying that the University of Idaho needs to hold its classes online for the safety of everyone – the students, the instructors, and the residents of Moscow and the Palouse region.

Idaho is one of 18 states currently rated in the ‘red zone’ for increasing rates of coronavirus infections, as determined by the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, with more than 10% of Idahoans testing positive on a daily basis. As of July 27, 2020, Moscow had 68 confirmed coronavirus cases, with the number increasing steadily. This number is very likely to increase even more rapidly upon the arrival of students to the UI campus. An influx of cases would overwhelm Gritman Hospital’s three-bed ICU capacity and its overall accredited 25-bed count. 

While the outdoor open-air environment allows the virus to disperse because of natural air flow, a classroom filled with students holds the aerosolized virus particles for up to three hours or more, greatly increasing the risk to everyone in the room. The virus remains in the air for hours within poorly ventilated buildings, making face-to-face instruction a high risk for all involved, including the surrounding community into which these people flow. Masks can only reduce the risk of transmission if they are made and worn properly. The rate of coronavirus transmission depends on the mask’s materials, proper fit, and correct and consistent use. Masks worn inconsistently among the student and faculty bodies give greater chance for infection to spread. University of Idaho faculty and staff cannot entirely control the actions of all students and community members in regard to wearing PPE properly inside or outside the classroom, correctly self-distancing, or how and where they travel. 

The rates of transmission skyrocket in enclosed indoor spaces, making UI’s proposed indoor instruction environment highly impractical and dangerous.The limited 4-foot distancing guideline described in your email, which is well below the current 6-foot standard announced by the national Centers for Disease Control, is not acceptable. The decision to force professors into physically instructing their students in such a high-risk indoor environment, unless they have a pre-existing condition, further promotes the danger of contagion, including to those with unknown risk factors or real and reasonable fears. 

We feel compelled to point out the obvious: many families of both students and staff/faculty have at-risk family members living within their homes, including locals whose adult children will be home rather in dorms, in part because of the pandemic. By holding in-person classes, UI immediately puts these families at direct risk, while also increasing risk to the UI community and the Palouse community as a whole. This is unconscionable. The current UI decision adds an unacceptable level of avoidable stress and risk to countless numbers of families who are already navigating enormous concern for their health and lives, all at the exact time that other circumstances present unprecedented challenges well beyond health for many of these families.

Under the current circumstances amid this pandemic, everyone’s lives and livelihoods have been disrupted and forever transformed. Students and residents of the Palouse do not expect life as usual. They do not expect an in-person education. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton deemed the health of their communities a priority and will hold classes online indefinitely. WSU listened to their community and announced online education for all of their students. We were relieved to see similar leadership on remote learning by the local Palouse Prairie Charter School.

We must adapt to the circumstances by adopting safer educational strategies. The decision to hold in-person classes at UI this fall is unnecessarily dangerous and violates the recommendations of researchers and scientists to move students’ education strictly online. 

The University of Idaho has suffered its fair share of bad publicity in the past. The current pandemic gives you an opportunity to begin to correct that stigma. Unless the governor orders a statewide quarantine, the decision is up to you. It is in your power to protect or to dismantle the lives and families of those residing in Moscow and those of the UI community. You have the ability to be a source of care and safety and to be recognized for prioritizing the health and lives of everyone around UI. Please do the right thing. Hold all classes online. 

With deep concern, we are

The Residents of Moscow and the Palouse Region

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At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!