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Professors Say In-Person Classes Next Semester Could Risk Lives

A woman wearing a jean jacket and shirt with bright orange hearts carries a grey backpack and pile of books.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
The United Faculty of Florida wants the governor to mandate all online classes for public college and university students this fall.

As the start of the school year nears for many students, not all college professors are ready to head back to the classroom. The United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents college and university faculty and staff, is calling on the governor to move all classes online for the next semester.

When many colleges and universities were making their reopening plans earlier this summer, school officials didn’t have a clear picture yet of what the coronavirus situation could look like in the fall. It’s something Florida State University President John Thrasher mentioned during a June meeting with the University System Board of Governors.

Things are changing almost on an hourly basis, when you have the spike in the cases that we’ve had this past week, we all see that," Thrasher said. "What we’re talking about today in our Fall 2020 plan could be very different at the end of August and we all know that.”

Thrasher said the school would be prepared to make any necessary changes to its reopening plan. But with students preparing to head back to campus, United Faculty of Florida President Karen Morian says there’s no time left for making changes.

“We think we’re beyond that. We think we’ve asked for it to be done safely and too many of our schools are not making plans that we consider fully safe. And with the resurgence, the situation is not right for students to go into crowded classrooms and then go out and be in the community,” Morian said.

Morian said her group has concerns about some of the contact tracing plans created by some schools as well as social distancing plans and class sizes.

In a letter, the United Faculty of Florida asks the governor to bar in-person classes this fall. Morian says many of the reopening plans posed by higher education leaders were put in place before a recent rise in state coronavirus cases.

“Not addressing the reality on the ground is the biggest problem that we’re facing. A lot of it is pie in the sky, it will be alright. It will work out. Fingers crossed. Because for a while we looked pretty good in Florida. But we don’t now. So mid-March we were in a pretty good situation and we shut everything down to keep our campus from being super-spreader sites. And that’s what we’re asking. We’re asking to do that again,” Morian said.

Morian says making a decision now to move to distance learning will give everyone the predictability they need to prepare for their classes. She says it also won’t risk the upheaval of moving classes online part way through the semester if the situation worsens. But the group worries holding fall in-person classes could be more than just disruptive. Jaffar Ali Hameed is Vice President of the United Faculty of Florida and is part of the math faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University. He says opening colleges and universities to in-person classes, means risking the lives of students and faculty members.

“We risk deaths. Not a few, not 10, not 100. We risk deaths of 2,000 students. Let me emphasize, deaths of 2,000 of our own students and hospitalization of 52,000 students.”

In its letter to the governor, the United Faculty of Florida says that number is based on the current death rate for people of college age. As of May, UFF says that rate was estimated at 0.2 percent and it says about million students attend public colleges and universities in Florida.

UFF leaders say they are sending another letter Monday, after they say they have not received a response from DeSantis' office.