Is a Winter Campus Return Safe?

On this page:

  1. Is a Return to Campus Safe?
  2. What’s the Problem with the Return to Campus?
  3. The Solution is Simple
  4. What Can Students and Instructors Do?

Is a Return to Campus Safe? Student, Faculty, and Staff at York University Say “No”

Even before Omicron raised the possibility of the worst COVID-19 wave yet, students, faculty, and staff identified serious problems with York’s return to campus plans.

We believe the solution is simple. For the remainder of the Winter term:

  1. Courses that are able to run remotely should remain online until they can run safely.
  2. Courses that need to run in-person need to be properly supported so they can run safely.

In the meantime, we demand York take the necessary steps to make campus safer.

A white and red poster titled What's missing from York's return Plan? Let courses stay remote if they need to! Each course should only return when it can run safely. Students and instructors should get to collectively decide whether their class is held online or in-person. Six solutions are provided: 1. supply us with tests and masks, 2. Tell us when we've been exposed, 3. Approve our medical/family accommodations now, 4. provide us classrooms when social distancing is possible, 5. release the ventilation study, and 6. give us more time.


What’s the Problem with the Plan to Return to Campus?

Vaccines Are Not Enough

There is mounting evidence that the Omicron variant is especially adept at evading vaccine immunity. While booster shots may help with the severity of the illness, they won’t stop the spread. Additionally, it will take time for everyone to get their boosters.

Poor Ventilation

While York claims to have improved ventilation, they still refuse to release the ventilation audits they conducted. If ventilation at York is as good as they say, what is there to hide?

Lack of Social Distancing

The Ford provincial government might have exempted post-secondary institutions from social distancing, but York University doesn’t have to follow this potentially deadly policy.

In order to provide students with classrooms where they can practice social distancing, it means that York will not be able to return to 80% in person as it wishes.

Inadequate Contact Tracing

Current policy states that if someone discloses that they tested positive, the Instructor is not permitted to tell the other students about potential exposure. Instead, York has assigned a single office to investigate confirmed and potential cases, and to follow up with students who may have been exposed.

With a university York’s size, if campuses are near capacity, adequate contact tracing will become virtually impossible. We are not confident that York will be able to handle contact tracing quickly and effectively enough to prevent outbreaks.

Lack of Protective Resources

While other universities are providing high quality masks and rapid tests, York has no plan to provide these protective resources to students, staff or faculty.

Combined with the lack of social distancing and proper ventilation, classrooms are outbreaks waiting to happen.

Failure to Accommodate Members at Highest Risk

York claims to be reasonable about accommodating those who need it due to medical, disability, or family-status grounds. However, they have been placing near-insurmountable barriers on anyone whose accommodation would require them to work remotely. They are also not accommodating members who are willing to work in person but whose conditions require accommodations like social distancing, or moving students with mask exemptions into another section.

Remote teaching is not an undue hardship – we’ve shown that teaching can be done remotely since March 2020! The accommodation process needs to respect the dignity of members and work with them to find solutions, not place hurdles in the hopes that they will fall in line.

Confusion for Instructors and Students

Constantly changing between remote classes and in-person delivery as the pandemic evolves is confusing for students, and involves a lot of extra work for instructors. Remote teaching is not the same thing as in-person teaching, and members have been working hard to adapt their courses to make them appropriate to their mode of delivery. Meanwhile, students who need to take classes remotely are faced with impossible decisions as the university tries to force them back into the classroom.

The solution is simple:

  1. Accessible rapid tests and supply of N95 masks for staff, faculty, and students who have to be on campus.
  2. Adequate and transparent reporting of YU daily screening data and contact tracing.
  3. Expedient, responsive, transparent, and fair accommodations process for medical and family status accommodations without the need to renew each term.
  4. Opportunity to practice social distancing in all classrooms, especially in those where strenuous physical activity takes place, like dance classes.
  5. Upgrades to ventilation and making the audits of air quality in classrooms publicly available.
  6. Any return to campus needs to have adequate notice time (more than three weeks) so that members can obtain their booster shots, adapt their lives, classes, and access the workplace accommodations process if necessary.

CUPE 3903 will oppose any return to in-person teaching that does not meet these reasonable and necessary steps.

Until York can be made safe, the bare minimum is to respect the collective decision making power of Instructors and students over whether to stay online or remote.

What Can Students and Instructors Do?

If you are a member of CUPE 3903:

If you are a student: