A Letter from Dean Charles Martinez about COVID-19

By now, you have likely read President Fenves’s March 11th email to campus indicating the extension of spring break for students by one week, and institutional efforts to increase social distancing measures in response to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Leaders at UT and within the College of Education have been monitoring this situation closely, and we are all committed to doing everything we can to protect our students, faculty, staff, and the broader community.

As recommended by public health experts, UT will be engaging in active “social distancing” measures. Social distancing refers to active steps taken to increase the physical space between people to slow the spread of the virus. These measures are designed to help prevent direct transmission of the virus, but also to help “flatten the peaks” of infection to ensure that health service resources are adequately available to deliver help to sick people.

There will be more information forthcoming; for now, here is a summary of our social distancing plans:

  • Spring break has been extended for students by one week, and classes will resume on March 30th. Students who wish to return to campus prior to that date may do so; residence halls, dining halls, health and counseling services, and other university facilities will remain open. Student teachers should plan to continue with their student teaching during that week. Further direction will be provided to cohort coordinators by the Director of Education Services.
  • When classes resume on March 30th, in-person class meetings will be shifted to online modalities (e.g., teleconferencing via Zoom, use of Canvas for course administration, and other distance learning technology) wherever possible. For every course, each individual instructor of record will be the main point of contact for students. Student advisors will continue to be available in person, by phone, and via email. In the College of Education, we also understand that some course activities involving educational field experience, student teaching, and clinical activities cannot be conducted online and are subject to certification or licensing experience requirements. These activities will continue as planned, although supervision sessions may occur in an online environment. In these situations, we will also closely monitor for any impact of closure of schools or placement sites on our students.
  • The additional week, March 23rd to March 27th, of preparation for resuming classes on March 30th will provide faculty and staff more time to adapt courses for online delivery. The additional time away from campus will not extend the academic year, so faculty members will need to further consider how to integrate that missed content into the remaining weeks of the term. In addition to resources provided by UT, the college’s Office of Instructional Innovation will be hosting additional sessions on the use of these tools and will be available to support faculty members individually. With the support of department chairs, we will provide additional guidance to faculty members about plans to maximize social distancing for classes that cannot be convened online. Graduate students and post-docs should work with their faculty supervisors to develop appropriate plans regarding their research.  
  • The UT campus and the College of Education will remain open. Faculty and staff should continue to perform their normal functions. I am very committed to the health and well-being of our faculty and staff members, and understand that many of our college professionals have concerns about becoming ill, or may need time away to care for children or others. Please review UT guidance for staff and faculty regarding COVID-19-related leave and working remotely. If you are not feeling well, stay home. We will do everything possible to make accommodations for faculty and staff who have underlying health concerns. 
  • In order to provide timely guidance and an opportunity for faculty and staff to ask questions, I will host a Zoom town hall tomorrow, Friday, March 13th, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. An email to faculty and staff with detailed instructions on how to participate will follow later today.
  • This situation is evolving, and it is best to expect changes in our plans as we respond to new information. I encourage all College of Education community members to frequently check UT’s COVID-19 website to stay informed. If you have specific ideas about how UT can best respond to keep our community safe, please share them here. You may also reach out to me directly at dean.education@austin.utexas.edu with questions or ideas about how to best support our College of Education community.

I know this is a difficult time. We all share concern for the health and well-being of our families, loved ones, and our broader communities, and may be feeling stress and anxiety. Please utilize all of the self-care resources that we have available. In the College of Education, we are joined together by a deep caring for others and passion for being in service to others—they undergird all that we do. It is essential that we draw on these strengths now as we adapt to this situation. Show caring and give grace wherever and whenever you can over the coming weeks. Even in the face of challenges, we are steadfast in supporting students and each other while delivering on our mission to serve the people of Texas, the nation, and the world through transformational research and teaching.