COVID-19 Academic Planning FAQ

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Faculty and Teaching Considerations

What sort of expectations can I set around wearing or not wearing face masks?

The current Face Covering Protocol requires masks to be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status. This excellent guide provides step-by-step instructions on what to do if a student in your class violates the protocol. Note that any approved alternative well-fitted masks will be included in students’ disability accommodation letters or discussed with instructors. Cloth masks and transparent face shields for teaching are available through the department or college, N-95 and other protective masks are available through the Department of Health and Safety.

Note that If you are teaching in leased facilities, local ordinances (e.g., city or county) may also apply. In accordance with federal regulations, Parking and Transportation Services and Metro Transit requires all individuals to wear a well-fitted mask when on buses.

Can I require mask-wearing in my classroom?

Policy decisions regarding well-fitted mask use are currently made centrally and reflected in the University’s Face Covering Protocol, which will be revised as needed based on changes to public health conditions and public health guidance. The Faculty Consultative Committee of the Senate has helped develop some suggested syllabus language that reflects the current University policy on masking that you can use to explain expectations to your students.

A student in my class is not wearing a well-fitted mask, in conflict with the University’s Face Covering Protocol. What should I do?

  1. Talk with the student privately and ask them to wear a well-fitted mask for class, consistent with the University’s Face Covering Protocol. If possible, provide a mask to the student. If the student self-discloses that a medical condition or disability prevents them from wearing a well-fitted mask, provide their contact information to the campus disability services office on your campus, which is available to help explore alternative accommodations.
  2. If the student does not self-disclose a medical or disability-related reason for not wearing a well-fitted mask and refuses to put one on, the instructor can ask the student to leave for the class session. If the student still refuses to put on a well-fitted mask, the instructor can utilize discretion on whether or not to end the class early. Call campus security/police only in situations in which you are concerned there is an imminent threat to the safety of yourself or others. 
  3. If student complied after the initial request to put on a well-fitted mask: Following the class session, the instructor should follow up with an email to the student reiterating expectations (including a reminder of the University’s Face Covering Protocol, the Teaching and Learning: Student Responsibilities, and the Student Conduct Code). The instructor should reiterate that participating in the class will require use of a well-fitted mask unless the student has received an accommodation. The instructor should also let the student know that if this happens again, the student will again be asked to leave class and the instructor will submit a report to the campus student conduct office. 

There may be instances in which a student simply forgets their well-fitted mask more than one time. It is up to the instructor’s discretion to determine if the student is unwilling to comply or simply needs a subsequent reminder. At any point, the instructor is encouraged to have an educational conversation if the student repeatedly forgets but willfully complies when reminded.

If a second offense occurs, the instructor should ask the student to leave class and the instructor should submit a report to the campus student conduct office. A staff member from that office will contact the student and address the issue as appropriate. In many circumstances, a student will be allowed back to class after meeting with that staff member.

If class had to be ended by the instructor due to non-compliance and/or campus security/police were called in to assist with removal: Submit a report to your campus student conduct office. Depending on the resolution of the matter, disciplinary sanctions could be utilized. 

What is an instructor’s responsibility if they learn of unvaccinated students, or if they learn that students have tested positive for COVID-19?

Please see this guidance document for detailed information.

As was the case prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors or supervisors should not inquire about or otherwise solicit a student’s immunization status or medical test results, either individually or anonymously. 

Should a student—without solicitation by the instructor or supervisor—voluntarily disclose their vaccination status, the individual should keep that information private and not share with others. Vaccination status alone does not indicate if a student is ill or has a transmissible disease. 

Should a student—without solicitation by the instructor or supervisor—voluntarily disclose that they tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 10 days, the instructor should advise the student to follow MDH isolation guidance and to contact their campus health service, or their primary physician with questions or medical concerns. 

If a student fails to comply with the University’s communicated expectations, an instructor or supervisor can refer the matter to the student conduct office on their campus. Non-emergency safety concerns can be reported via the University's Safety Concern Form and/or to a supervisor. A medical emergency should be reported to 9-1-1.

What if a student tells me that they want to maintain physical distancing in my class?

If your classroom permits, students may certainly choose to “spread out” from each other. If it does not and you want to explore changing classrooms, for this or any other reason, please reach out to [email protected] or your local classroom scheduling unit.

What is the status of my classroom HVAC system?

The majority (over 600) of the approximately 780 classrooms (counting every room on the Twin Cities campus with an academic course assigned to it in Ad Astra) meet, without additional mitigation, the required guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) on operating each classroom building’s HVAC capacities. The remaining (approximately 160) rooms will meet this guidance with the addition of FM-purchased and installed portable air filtration units. You can see the location of these supplemented classrooms at this site.

Please see this August 23, 2021 email for details.

How can I manage expectations in my classroom?

A faculty member’s responsibility to manage their classroom and their obligation to respect the privacy rights of students are the same as they have been in recent years. Under the University’s codes of conduct and other policies, University faculty, staff, and students have obligations to maintain safe learning, instruction, and other environments, and to be respectful, fair, and civil with one another. We all must avoid making assumptions about others’ health status or impermissibly discriminating against others based on perceived health or immunization status.

Instructors may establish, communicate, and maintain expectations for the classroom environment as long as they do not violate any of these obligations. If a student fails to comply with communicated expectations, an instructor can refer the matter to the student conduct office on their campus. Non-emergency safety concerns can be reported via the University’s Safety Concern Form and/or to a supervisor. A medical emergency should be reported to 9-1-1.

Can I mandate students not show up to class if feeling ill?

Faculty are strongly encouraged to adopt and communicate educational practices that enable and encourage students to stay home when they are sick. These practices must be consistent with the policy on Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences. However, we all must avoid making assumptions about others’ health status or impermissibly discriminating against others based on perceived health or immunization status. The Faculty Consultative Committee of the Senate has helped develop some suggested syllabus language that reflects the current University policy on staying home when ill that you can use to explain expectations to your students.

What if a student shows up to class with symptoms (coughing, sneezing)?

Students, faculty, and staff should stay home and get tested if they have symptoms of COVID. The University is adopting guidance from the CDC and MDH on this topic, and asking students, faculty and staff to self-check for these COVID-19 symptoms before going to class or to work in person. Instructors can remind students of these expectations in the syllabus. The Faculty Consultative Committee has drafted suggested syllabus language that may be helpful. We also strongly encourage instructors to design their classes to enable and empower students who are ill to stay home, consistent with University policy on Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences.

There are many reasons why students might cough, sneeze, or have a runny nose (including, for example, seasonal allergies). We all must avoid making assumptions about others’ health status or impermissibly discriminating against others based on perceived health status. Accordingly, no individual should be assumed to be infected with COVID-19 on the basis of apparent symptoms; you should not attempt to make medical diagnoses in class. Instructors may, as has always been their case, use their best judgment (consistent with University policy and the law), to manage their classrooms to avoid disruptions.

Are instructors required to provide accommodations (e.g., remote learning) to students who either test positive for COVID or are unvaccinated?

As was the case before the pandemic, an instructor should refer a student who voluntarily and without solicitation discloses a medical condition toward the process of seeking an accommodation. That said, in most circumstances, neither testing positive for COVID-19 nor being unvaccinated would constitute a disability such that the University would need to provide reasonable accommodations. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to isolate or falls ill, the instructor should provide the student the opportunity to make up missed work per the University’s Administrative Policy: Makeup Work for Legitimate Absences. Just as with any other illness, the instructor would not need to provide remote instruction, although you certainly may if you wish.

What is the university guidance or expectation if the Disability Resource Center (or equivalent on my campus) reaches out to me requesting that I accommodate a student who is seeking remote or online learning options?

The University’s expectation is that faculty members will engage in good faith in the interactive process that the University is obligated to follow when exploring reasonable accommodations for a documented disability. We will not ask an instructor to accommodate a student with remote or online learning options without engaging in this interactive process to see whether the specific course at issue can be offered in a different modality without compromising learning objectives.

What do I tell a student who wants to take my class remotely or online?

We suggest a message like the following: 

With the University returning to standard practices, we will not be offering this course remotely or online.  If this is a barrier for you, please consult with your academic advising team to make an alternative plan and to explore the possibility of taking an alternative course. If you are requesting an accommodation for a documented disability, please begin the accommodation request process with the disability services office on your campus. Once that office has evaluated your request, I will work with their consultant to identify ways to minimize barriers and facilitate inclusion in the class.

During the semester, what if I cannot teach in person due to illness or other COVID-related factors?

As happened before the pandemic, if an instructor is unavailable to teach their course for any reason, including their own sickness or caregiving responsibilities, we encourage you to consult with your Chair/Head. We encourage you to rely on past practice for class coverage in addressing these needs, and appreciate your flexibility and creativity.

My class curriculum or safety protocols required well-fitted mask or respirator use pre-pandemic; may I continue to require them even if the University policy shifts?

Yes, it is our expectation that classes that required specific types of face coverings prior to the pandemic did so for reasons specific to the class, not based on the pandemic. Assuming that those reasons are still in place, such masks or respirators can still be required.

Will the COVID Restriction Exception Process be available after August 2?

Yes, this process for requesting to maintain COVID restrictions in specific circumstances will be extended.

I’m worried about COVID; can I change the modality of my class to remote, online or hybrid?

Students enrolled in their classes based on, among other things, the modality offered, which was decided in collaboration between the instructor and the unit, based on pedagogical appropriateness, student demand, and personal health conditions of the instructor (see the March 12, 2021 message for details on this guidance). In the future, we may need to pivot the modality of course instruction as we did in Spring 2020, but in the meantime courses should remain in the modality they are currently offered. 

Will we offer isolation and quarantine space?

Residence halls will provide isolation and quarantine space for residential students, and we will be following CDC and MDH guidance on isolation and quarantine policy.

Will there be different rules for study abroad or international travel?

Different countries have different rules and restrictions regarding vaccination and other protective measures, and the prevalence of the virus, immunization rates and the quality of healthcare can vary widely among different destinations. We strongly encourage vaccination for all of our population, regardless of their travel plans. The Global Programs and Strategy Alliance can help individuals who are interested in travelling internationally to understand the situation and the requirements for their intended destination.

Will there be different rules for community-based learning, internships or off-campus field work?

Different partnering organizations will have different rules and restrictions regarding vaccination and protective measures. The Office for Public Engagement's COVID-19 and Community-Based Activities webpage provides guidance regarding protocols for different domestic off-campus learning experiences. We strongly encourage vaccination for all of our population, regardless of work location.

My question isn’t answered here; what should I do?

Please submit your question to [email protected].