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STMU Law COVID Committee Petition

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In the interest of transparency and student participation in the decision making for the 2020-2021 academic year, St. Mary’s Law students ask that the COVID Committee and the University Administration work with students to create a solution that reflects the mission statement of St. Mary’s University School of Law.

“St. Mary’s University, as a Catholic Marianist University, fosters the formation of people in faith and educates leaders for the common good through community, integrated liberal arts and professional education, and academic excellence.”

“The St. Mary’s University mission statement is a reflection of the Characteristics of Marianist Universities. There are five elements that characterize the Marianist approach to education:

•Educate for formation in faith

•Provide an integral quality education

•Educate in the family spirit

•Educate for service, justice and peace

•Educate for adaptation and change

In this spirit of our University’s Mission Statement and Marianist approach to education, we the students of St. Mary’s School of Law have several requests:

I. Transparency

In the interest of transparency so that students may evaluate their own and their families’ health risks, and make critical educational, financial, and family decisions, we request that the Administration and COVID Committee either:

  • Release meeting minutes and make them regularly accessible to students so we can see that the comments and concerns we have sent to the Administration, either directly or through Faculty members, are being discussed and considered; or

Hold a “Town Hall” via Zoom or Zoom Webinar where students can attend one or more COVID Committee meetings where ultimate decisions about our education will be made.

II. Timeliness

In the interest of timeliness, we request that the Administration and COVID Committee make decisions about the Fall Semester sooner rather than later. Many of us have decisions to make about housing, which is the largest expense we incur each semester behind tuition. Many of our lives have been disrupted and knowing what to expect this fall will provide all of us peace of mind and predictability moving forward.

III. Active Participation

In the interest of active participation, we request that the Administration and COVID Committee permit a student representative (or representatives) to participate in future COVID Committee meetings, and to provide “Town Hall” style opportunities for students to voice our concerns. This year, many of us worked hard for St. Mary’s to excel in Advocacy. Now, we ask that you allow us an opportunity to advocate for ourselves. Additionally, we request that a survey about the Fall Semester be sent to the rising 2L and 3L classes so everyone may share their preferences and concerns with the Committee.

IV. Answers

In the interest of having our questions answered to the best of the Administration and COVID Committee’s ability, below are a number of questions that we would appreciate answers to, in addition to the individual student questions we hope you will answer in a Zoom or Town Hall:

  • Which classes will be online only, and which will have an in-person component? How is the decision being made about the modality of each class?
  • We understand that masks will be required on campus. How will this be enforced? What is the plan if a student or professor does not wear a mask? What happens during class if a student removes a mask or does not otherwise comply with social distancing expectations? What if people improperly wear masks (e.g., not covering their noses, or wearing a mask with valves that release their own air)? What if a professor fails to enforce the mask requirement, putting other students in the class at risk?
  • Will the law school be providing information on ventilation, the percentage of outdoor air used by the air conditioning system, the number of air changes per hour, the filtration or air cleaning system used (and the status of filters), and carbon dioxide levels (on a live basis) for each room in which students, faculty, and staff will be present? If not, why not? If so, when, so that students may evaluate their health risks?
  • Will students be expected to comply with social distancing and mask requirements in their personal lives? I.e., are students expected to refrain from socializing with each other or their families or friends during the semester to reduce the risk of an outbreak?
  • Given the many reports of COVID outbreaks stemming from people aged 30 and younger socializing at bars and parties, what is the basis for believing that St. Mary’s University students will refrain from ever engaging in this behavior over the course of the entire semester? Why is the law school willing to trust students to engage in no up-close social contact from August to November, when it does not trust us to take an unproctored final exam?
  • Will students be prohibited from traveling outside of San Antonio during the entire fall semester, to avoid spreading COVID or bringing it back to campus? If not, why not? If so, how will this be enforced?
  • Many students may have family members or housemates who are healthcare providers or first responders, exposing them to COVID risk on a daily basis. Will these students be permitted to take in-person classes?
  • How will students use the restrooms during on-campus classes if it is only safe for one person to be in the restroom at a time?
  • Will there be any common spaces available to study or socialize on campus?
  • How will the law school foster a sense of community in a socially distanced, masked environment?
  • How do the pedagogical benefits of in-person education with masks/social distancing/other safety measures compare to a purely online class? How is the cost/benefit analysis being done to support in-person classes in a COVID setting?
  • What kind of training for teaching online is being provided to faculty? Is it required?
  • If faculty are required to prepare to teach both online and in-person simultaneously, how will that affect the quality of the instruction, as one would expect that both the in-person and online experiences would be of reduced quality. How will participating via Zoom for online students in a live class, with some students in person, affect online students’ ability to fully participate in class?
  • Are faculty being given a choice of whether to teach online or in person? What information do they have to provide to the university to be able to teach online only? Will they be penalized in any way for their request or choice to work online only?
  • Are staff being given a choice of whether to work online or in person? What information do they have to provide to the university to be able to work online only? Will they be penalized in any way for their request or choice to work online only?
  • What kind of personal protective gear is being provided for faculty and staff, particularly staff who will be cleaning and sanitizing, or will be student-facing?
  • What will the threshold be for shifting to an online-only semester once an in-person semester is started? Is it a certain number of cases of COVID among campus members? A certain number of deaths of members of the campus community? The mandates of the local government? Whether hospitals are overloaded?
  • What does the committee think are the chances at the moment of making it through a complete in-person semester? What is the basis of this prediction?
  • Who are the members of the COVID committee? How were they selected? Are there any public health or epidemiology experts providing counsel to the committee?
  • What if a student or one of their family members becomes ill with COVID during the semester? How will that student be expected to complete the course and satisfy attendance and other course requirements?
  • What if another student in one of my classes becomes ill with COVID? Will the entire class be required to be tested? Will the entire class (and the instructor) be required to quarantine for 2 weeks?
  • What if an instructor becomes ill with COVID during the semester? Will the course be cancelled? Will another instructor complete the course for the ill instructor?
  • What is the plan for COVID testing for students/faculty/staff? Will testing be required to attend classes in person, and would that testing be required regularly, or just once? How will testing be paid for?
  • What consideration has been given to how bringing students back to campus will affect the local San Antonio and West Side communities, given the current uncontrolled outbreak in Texas, the stress on the healthcare system, and the higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 for racial and ethnic minorities? ( This is a particular concern, given the high percentage of Hispanic members of the St. Mary’s community, the West Side, and larger San Antonio community.
  • What is different about St. Mary’s that makes it more likely that St. Mary’s can succeed with an on-campus fall semester, when law schools like Harvard and Berkeley have announced that they will be all online?
  • How has the law school’s risk analysis shifted as it has become evident that more young people are being diagnosed with COVID, and that long-term complications (e.g., diabetes, cognitive and other neurological problems, lung damage) can occur at all ages?

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