Administrators to Issue Guidance on Adjustments for Students in Isolation

This comes after continued advocacy by USG, which had been alarmed by the previous lack of guidance and pushed administrators to clarify University policy.

Bond+Chapel

Bond Chapel

By Nikhil Jaiswal, News Editor

With an anticipated return to in-person learning on January 24, the University is planning to release guidance instructing faculty to allow students who miss in-person instruction due to COVID-19 related isolation to either participate virtually or access recordings of sessions.

A statement provided to The Maroon by Undergraduate Student Government (USG) detailed a meeting between Allen Abbott, President of USG, Julia Brestovitskiy, USG’s Academic and Career Affairs Committee Chair, and officials from the Provost’s office. According to the statement, administrators plan to email instructors the updated guidance this week, as well as post the policies on the UChicago Forward website.

The resumption of in-person instruction will come four days after on-campus students will be allowed to return to University housing, which has been operating at limited capacity during the first two weeks of the quarter. Under current guidelines, any student who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate (in isolation housing) for at least ten days. As per an email from Housing and Residence Life to students in housing, students can leave isolation after five days if “certain symptom improvement conditions have been met and the student has received a negative rapid antigen test.”

Before now, University policy on academic adjustments for isolating students had remained unclear. “We’ve been given no guidance or protocol for what to do if a student needs to isolate, or if we in our instructorship role need to isolate,” said Natalie Farrell, a Ph.D. student in music history and theory at the University of Chicago and course assistant.

The lack of University-wide guidance on accommodations up until this point injected more uncertainty into already chaotic situations when students were notified of positive COVID-19 test results. Students had no guarantee that they would be allowed to participate virtually or access recordings while in isolation, and faculty were unsure of what accommodations they could make.

In the meeting with the Provost’s Office, Abbott and Brestovitskiy reiterated the need for students to attend classes remotely while in isolation. They explained that, “many students and instructors are under the impression that the University actively discourages or does not allow hybrid accommodations for students with COVID-19; that ambiguity surrounding the guidance will lead to inconsistency in outcomes across departments and courses; and that students might be forced to choose between falling behind on courses or violating University health policies.”

Abbott also told The Maroon that the option of attending class virtually or receiving session recordings would be made available to students who had been exposed to COVID-19 or were symptomatic while they await test results. “Faculty are not allowed to ask students for proof of a positive test result in making learning adjustments,” Abbott added.

USG’s Student Advocate’s Office (SAO) will be working with administrators to ensure that students isolating with COVID-19 are accommodated. Students who are denied the necessary accommodations can file a complaint with the SAO. Additionally, USG encourages students who are immunocompromised or face other COVID-19 related health concerns to reach out to Student Disability Services. 

The University did not immediately respond when asked for comment on whether virtual learning options or session recordings would be provided to students in COVID-19 related isolation.