UNC began in-person instruction on Monday, with many students entering a classroom for the first time since last March.
On Sunday — after students rushed Franklin Street following UNC's win over Duke — the University announced that professors had the option to delay the start of their in-person classes until Feb. 17. Some professors chose to keep their classes on Zoom this week.
Director of University bands Jeff Fuchs, who is teaching two band electives this semester, is delaying the start of his class sections until next week. He said he made the decisions after his students expressed concern about coming to class, especially because of the added exposure risk that playing instruments poses.
“I feel totally comfortable with the mitigations we've put in place for our classes in the music department and the classes specifically that I'm going to be teaching,” he said. “My trust level for the remainder of the students on campus and in the community is less high at this point.”
In some cases, the decision to delay in-person instruction was department-wide.
All LFIT classes that were scheduled to be in-person, for example, are still meeting on Zoom this week after an announcement from the department head.
Kathleen Stanford, a graduate student teaching four LFIT sections this semester, said she was relieved to hear about the delay.
“Anytime we have a major concern, a delay or break is something that we should consider,” she said. “I think that was a very good move for (the University) to offer the opportunity for instructors to stay on Zoom or to stay virtual. I'm hoping that they'll continue to offer that option should another event of concern arise.”
Some professors are also trying to shift the mode of instruction of their classes to provide more safety and flexibility for their students.
Hélène de Fays, a professor in the romance studies department, said she submitted a request for her in-person-only first-year seminar to be switched to a classroom equipped for hybrid learning. That way, she said, students who want to remain remote would be able to do so.
“I think a lot of students are happy to be in class, but if you have any concerns, you've got to be allowed to stay remote,” de Fays said. “So long as everybody's on board, and we're all collaborating and working together, you can still have quality instruction.”
De Fays said she felt comfortable teaching in person as long as proper precautions were taken, but that several of her colleagues didn’t feel the same.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Bob Blouin said in a campus message Sunday night that in-person instruction is still preferred by faculty and students.
"Today (Feb. 7) we spoke with our infectious disease and public health experts as well as Orange County Health Department officials and they continue to tell us that our campus COVID-19 mitigation tactics make our classrooms among the safest environments," Guskiewicz and Blouin said in the message.
Under the University’s Carolina Together testing program, students with in-person classes are required to be tested twice per week. All in-person classes will be small in size and require students to wear masks and physically distance.
Only about 15 percent of all undergraduate courses offered this semester will be held at least partially in-person, according to UNC Media Relations.
Students like first-year Brittany Maier have been looking forward to being in the classroom after months of Zoom calls. But she said the University made the right call by providing the option to delay in-person instruction.
Maier, who has two in-person classes delayed until next week, said she will probably be a little uncomfortable in the classroom at first but will be able to learn better than she did on Zoom.
“I'm kind of disappointed that I can't go out and actually meet the people in my classes yet – I'm just looking at them through a screen,” she said. “But I know that it was the smartest choice for them to make at this point.”
Fuchs said students who prioritize having in-person classes should make the appropriate sacrifices to keep their classmates safe.
“I think this whole pandemic is shown that those who have the most to lose follow the rules a lot — more than those who have very little to lose,” Fuchs said.
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