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Union airs concerns over UA reopening plan

by Jaime Adame | June 4, 2020 at 7:12 a.m.
Kassandra Salazar (left), a sophomore at the University of Arkansas from Rogers, speaks Tuesday, April 5, 2016, to a group of 11th-grade students from Heritage High School in Rogers as they walk past Old Main while on a tour of the university campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A union representing about 45 faculty and staff members at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville said in a statement the campus reopening plan released Monday "does little to clarify a confusing and potentially dangerous situation for the Fall 2020 semester" given the coronavirus pandemic.

"We urge the administration to be more specific in its proposals to safeguard the U of A community. Until then, UA faculty and staff have proven they can deliver a high-quality remote education, just as it has since campus closed in March," reads the statement from UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965.

The university on Monday released a 24-page plan for returning to campus that describes a phased-in approach to start this month and culminate with the student body on campus in August for the fall semester.

A campus mask requirement and alterations to classes -- including options such as having students in a single course trade-off attending in-person and remotely -- are among procedures in the plan. A UA spokesman called the plan a "first step in providing direction" for the campus.

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The union stated that the plan "does not go far enough to protect the health of students" and leaves staff members "vulnerable." UA spokesman Mark Rushing on Wednesday disputed some assertions and characterizations made by the union.

"University Housing is offering more single-occupancy rooms to students this year than previously," Rushing said in a statement. The union said the housing population was not being reduced in a way that would allow for more single-occupant living spaces.

Rushing also said: "New freshmen who want to live off-campus for the 2020-2021 academic year because of the pandemic can do so by completing a Freshmen Exemption Request located on the University Housing website." However, UA's exemption form does not refer to covid-19 and states a medical exemption requires a doctor's letter asserting an existing condition likely to worsen by living on campus.

The 24-page plan gives broad outlines about housing changes but also refers to ongoing planning: "University Housing is preparing plans (outlined separately) for housing students this fall and will continue to support move-in of residents."

The union asserted that dining facilities are "scheduled to operate normally," but Rushing said they "will be much different this fall with multiple precautions in place to limit the number of people in dining areas at any given time" through reduced seating, changes to hours and grab-and-go options.

Dr. Huda Sharaf, medical director of the Pat Walker Health Center and co-chairman of the university's Communicable Diseases Outbreak Committee, said in a statement that "we are basing our decisions on the guidance provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Arkansas Department of Health." The union referred to guidelines from the American College Health Association.

The 24-page plan says nothing about procedures for widespread campus coronavirus testing. Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month described efforts to build up testing capabilities to allow for rapid testing on or near college campuses in the state.

Sharaf said "blanket mass testing of the campus at large is not currently advised by the [Arkansas Department of Health], although we are discussing this with [the Health Department ]." She described the plan's details for daily certifications and self-assessments by employees before coming to campus that they're free of symptoms and have not contacted someone ill.

"If symptoms exist, employees will be directed not to come to campus and will be provided information for next steps. Healthcare professionals will recommend testing when appropriate," Sharaf said.

Metro on 06/04/2020


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