USG Online Option for Students

USG Online Option for Students

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Stop COVID-19 started this petition to University System of Georgia

USG Online Option for Students

University System of Georgia (USG) students should have the opportunity for online-only learning for the duration of the pandemic. 

As of July 28, 2020, with 390 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March, the University of Georgia ranks 3rd nationally for most COVID-19 cases. Not far behind, Georgia Tech ranks 14th with 94 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March. 

According to the New York Times, as of August 1, 2020, there are “At least 70 new coronavirus deaths and 3,492 new cases...Over the past week, there have been an average of 3,3,367 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from the average two weeks earlier. As of Sunday morning, there have been at least 174, 834 cases and 3,744 deaths in Georgia since the beginning of the pandemic” 

The New York Times database also informs us that, “The seven-day average of new infections is hovering around 65,000 for two weeks in what amounts to a second wave of cases.”

In Indiana, Greenfield Central Junior High School opened last week and had to quarantine students within hours. 

An overnight camp in Georgia opened in late June and about half of the 600 campers and staff contracted the virus, despite the precautions they took.

While the campus experience is an integral component of experiential learning, and we all want to return to campus, science informs us that it is not be safe yet, and here is why:

Main Points:

1. The spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase in the wake of school campus reopening, especially in the absence of a vaccine, rapid testing, and therapeutics, and regardless of the many precautions that will be taken. This puts many students and their loved ones at risk, and presents an increased liability for the university should students and their families contract the virus. 

2. In the event that schools do re-open in the current COVID-19 environment and then have to shut down again, this will further disrupt students' learning and their ability  to plan for the future, at a significant price to the university system. 

The dormitories, libraries, and study spaces will be a hotspot for the spread of COVID-19, even when maintaining social distancing and wearing face masks. These areas would require rigorous and frequent cleaning which could be costly. It would also require these shared spaces to be emptied and available for cleaning multiple times a day, interrupting many students’ and staff' schedules. Additionally, many of the dorms have community bathrooms which there is no way to avoid not social distancing or wearing masks in these areas. Even if precautions are put in place, there is an increased risk in the spread of the virus when students are living and studying in such close quarters. 

Even with social distancing, our professors will still see hundreds of students per day. We must put a hold on in-person learning to protect our cherished resources--professors.

The precautions that have been put in place are not ironclad or even close to it.

While students are required to wear masks in buildings or on buses, they may choose not to physically distance outside of campus or in outdoor settings. Thus, they can contract COVID-19 off-campus and bring it back. Moreso, how will mask-wearing be enforced? Will there be consequences for students who do not comply?

Minority communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. By returning to campus, we are jeopardizing the health of our minority students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, many USG schools are located in areas with high minority and low socioeconomic populations. Communities with lower socioeconomic levels often have less access to healthcare. They may not have the equipment that the universities have to fight this virus. By opening in-person instruction, we are putting these lives at an elevated risk. 

If students contract COVID-19, they are expected to return home. Thus, the virus will have an increased chance of being transmitted to communities here in Georgia, in other states, and around the WORLD. 

Some students do not have health insurance. For them, contracting this virus may result in bankrupting their family.  The possibility of such severe hardship could cause an emotional toll on students and their families.

COVID-19 travels through the air. It is inevitable that students will take their masks off at some point-whether that be to eat in a commons area or when they are in their dorm with four other students. Cleaning surfaces and touch points will not ensure the safety of students and faculty. 

It is inevitable that COVID-19 will spread if USG campuses re-open, no matter what precautions are taken. This will put students, professors, and facilities, along with community members, at increased risk of death, or at the least, a growing list of long-term medical complications due to COVID-19, most of which are still unknown. Is it really worth these lives to rush having in-person instruction?

Let us first stop the spread of COVID-19 and then return to campuses when it is safe to do so. This eliminates having to risk the health, well-being, and LIVES of students, faculty, staff, and communities-and their families-in Georgia.


Harvard University decided to hold all online classes online for the 2020-21 school year and will only allow 40% of undergraduate students to live on campus. 

California State University system has opted for online learning for all of its 23 campuses for the Fall 2020 semester. CSU Chancellors says, “First and foremost is the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff, and the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID-19 – current and as forecast throughout the 2020-21 academic year. This planning approach is necessary because a course that might begin in a face-to-face modality would likely have to be switched to a virtual format during the term if a serious second wave of the pandemic occurs, as forecast. Virtual planning is necessary because it might not be possible for some students, faculty and staff to safely travel to campus.”

Most of the University of California schools including University of California at Los Angeles and University of California at Irvine have also decided to pursue online learning for Fall 2020.

American University decided to deliver classes completely online due to the pandemic and discount tuition for Fall semester for undergraduate students.


Why can’t the University System of Georgia follow suit?


Questions:

How costly will it be for USG universities if they have an outbreak on campus that gets particularly bad? 

Do USG universities want the negative publicity of becoming a known hot spot?

How will it affect the mental well-being of faculty and students when they witness their peers get sick or die?

What USG supports are available to students/faculty/staff in the event they get sick on campus? 

What happens when a professor contracts COVID-19? How will that affect students’ learning outcomes? Will professors be paid for sick leave?

If a professor gets COVID-19, will all the students they have come in proximity with have to quarantine (professors see hundreds of students per day)?

If a roommate gets COVID-19, do all the other roommates have to quarantine for 14 days? 

How will students make up for in-person classes if they have to quarantine for 14 days?

How will the stress of COVID-19 affect professors and students? Will this have an impact on their teaching and learning?

How will it impact a student’s academic performance if they contract COVID-19 and have severe symptoms?

Will immunocompromised students have to risk their lives for higher education?

Since schools closed in-person education in March, COVID-19 cases in the state of Georgia have dramatically increased. Why did we close schools when cases were low and then decide to have in-person instruction when cases are dramatically higher?

Will COVID-19 testing be offered to students/faculty/staff by USG and how regularly? 

What measures are in place to provide mental, financial and other support to students whose education and post-graduation plans could be further disrupted and extended should an outbreak and another shutdown occur? 


Personal Testimonies:


“My family does not have health insurance and my dad is immunocompromised. If I contract COVID-19 and have to return home, my dad’s life will be at risk. Without health insurance, a hospital visit could leave my family bankrupt. I am scared. I am scared for my life. I am scared for the lives of my friends, professors, and faculty. PLEASE give the option for online learning for Fall 2020. PLEASE help save lives and stop the spread.”

-UGA ‘22’ Student

“As someone who was extremely conscious of germs before COVID, now I can barely control my anxiety enough to leave my house. When need dictates it, when I HAVE to leave my house, I wear a mask and gloves and stay as far away as possible from others in public. I cannot even begin to explain how I feel about having to be around so many people, who probably don't even care that COVID is killing and permanently damaging thousands, in a lecture hall. When there exists things like COVID parties, I cannot trust the person sitting next to me to not get me sick. How will I learn when I am in a constant state of worry that I might end up suffering a stroke or permanent heart damage from someone's careless actions?”

-Georgia Tech ‘22 Student


“Hello, I am a rising junior at UGA and I am desperately hoping that we will switch to online instead of hybrid. My family and I are terrified of school starting in 2 weeks. as probably heard, uga is #3 in the NATION with the most covid cases. In this condition, I do not think there should even be a debate on reopening. As a sister to someone with asthma and a history of pneumonia, this has affected my family and I immensely. Also, as a future educator, I am scared to see that staff are not given enough flexibility and options this upcoming semester. for the safety of our staff, students, & families, I believe the best choice is to promote online learning for Fall 2020 at the very least. please consider families without health insurance, those that are immunocompromised, & have respiratory illnesses. I do not feel safe and am very worried to learn in this environment.”

-UGS ‘22 Student


“This pandemic has proven itself to be no joking matter and yet students are being asked to attend classes in-person. The consequences that follow will be catastrophic for the lives of those less fortunate. As hubs of higher education, it’s imperative that we recognize the looming danger and allow for the choice of online classes for the Fall 2020 semester. Lets help stop the spread so the great minds attending these universities can work to ensure that our society can return to what it once was.”

-UGA ‘21 Student


“With a single mother and a sister diagnosed with Down Syndrome at home, I am suddenly conflicted between prioritizing my education and risking my family’s health all because the university system decided to keep in-person classes. Those with Down Syndrome are disproportionately affected by autoimmune diseases. We faced the fears and worries of my little sister catching pneumonia before, and I don’t want to consider risking her health again. Switching to online classes would be in the best interest for each student and their families’ lives, and I am disappointed to see our university willing to sacrifice that.”

-UGA ‘22 Student


“As a student who gets anxious quite easily, the inability to see or plan what my routine would look like during the school year is occasionally detrimentally unsettling. I already plan on not setting foot on campus when I do not have classes, but the times that I will, I cannot imagine how it would work and how I can guarantee that I will be safe. A majority of my classes have moved to online, but the option of online-learning should still exist, so I can have a peace of mind that I have a choice to take online classes and ultimately avoid the mental anxiety I have been beginning to feel. The mental health of students, especially those who have many more years of education, school, and work before they get to the careers of their dreams, is just as important as their physical health. Both of which can be well taken care of with the option of online-only learning for those who really need it.”

-UGA ‘22 Student


“As we’ve witnessed so far, COVID-19 stops for no one, and it most definitely will not give us a break this coming Fall. I am a student who has a weak immune system, no health insurance, and depends solely on financial aid for my education. I would be risking my life this Fall for my education, and in the event that I do contract COVID-19 and survive, I would be forced to halt my pursuit of an education to find a way to pay off medical bills alongside my current student loans. As someone who has chosen a path in healthcare at a university who takes pride in their college of science, I’m severely disappointed with their decision for in-person classes this fall. Unfortunately, it seems that my university values money over the well-being of their students.”

-UGA ‘22 Student

“Being immunocompromised myself, I really feel that the university needs to give its students the option to go fully virtual. Being at higher risk makes me feel scared of going into classes because no matter how careful I am, it is not guaranteed that everyone else is. Not only that, this increases the risk of even going back home because I would be putting my family in risk. Please consider giving the option of online classes because it can help slow down spread and reduce the amount of risk that we as individuals would be exposed to, but also to our loved ones.”

-UGA ‘22 Student

“Through its switch to virtual learning halfway into the spring semester, UGA demonstrated that an entirely online semester is possible. Now, with cases significantly higher than in March, the university’s push to have face-to-face instruction seems thoughtless. Providing an online learning option would be the best way to limit the spread of the virus. The hesitance from administration makes me feel as though UGA does not have the best in mind for its students, faculty, staff, and the Athens community in regards to health and safety.”

-UGA ‘22 Student

As an out-of-state student, moving down to Georgia is a MAJOR event. Not only is it unsafe for students to return to campus from all across the nation, it is also extremely difficult for us to “pack up our things and leave” in the event of students being sent home like Spring 2020 or if the student becomes diagnosed with COVID-19. If the disease becomes life-threatening, many students do not have family nor friends nearby, and the university can only help so much. There are so many factors on why UGA students should give the OPTION for students to go online, but the difficult burden on being out-of-state is an important one.

-UGA ‘22 Student

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