Dear College of Education Faculty and Staff,
I am writing today with important updates regarding our return to campus for the fall semester. Due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases as a result of the highly transmissible Delta variant, the university is enacting revised campus guidelines and policies to mitigate the spread of the disease among our faculty, staff and students. These changes will be communicated over the course of the week and will include adjustments to our return to work strategy, health and safety protocols, vaccines and testing, faculty teaching guidance and new guidance for immunocompromised individuals and family members.
Although these updates will undoubtedly affect our planned in-person experience, they must not affect our sense of community, our shared mission or the support we continue to have for another. We have made such significant progress toward getting back to in-person learning for students, finding ways to be together, to build community, to thrive, create, learn and teach. It is remarkable how adaptive, innovative, caring and kind our college community truly is—and now we must continue in our resilience as we embark on this ever-evolving fall semester.
The following highlights summarize the most recent university updates to policies and procedures that relate to health and safety measures as a result of COVID-19. We will be sure to address these topics, as well as any college-specific modifications, in our Town Hall tomorrow.
Returning to Campus
- Departments and units that have been planning for their staff to return to onsite work are authorized to adapt expectations for return of non-student facing/non-direct personnel through September 16. Supervisors will work with employees in these situations to adjust in-person expectations where indicated.
- We will continue to implement Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) for all eligible employees in accordance with UT and college policies. We will be extending the deadline for Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) and will continue to monitor the situation over the coming weeks in order to determine the safest, most productive return to work possible for all college employees.
- Vice President for Research Dan Jaffe will be providing guidance for research-specific staff.
Health and Safety Protocols
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently updated their guidance and recommends all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public settings. The university has adopted this masking guidance, and masks are strongly recommended but optional inside university buildings for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, except when alone in a private office or single-occupant cubicle.
- UT will provide masks at no cost to all staff, faculty, assistant instructors and teaching assistants who are on campus this semester.
- CSU business officers should continue to use the central personal protection equipment (PPE) request form to request PPE for their CSUs. PPE will be delivered to CSUs through Campus Distribution Services.
- Free masks are currently available to students at the William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center and Texas Union hospitality desks.
- Behavior Concerns and COVID-19 Advice Line (BCCAL) remains available as the primary tool to address questions or concerns from the university community about COVID-19.
- It is important for employees to report COVID-19 symptoms to the Occupational Health Program (OHP) as soon as possible, and stay home to self-isolate. Employees should contact OHP if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been tested because they have symptoms (even if the test was negative), or if they think they may have been exposed.
Vaccines and Testing
- We strongly encourage the community to get vaccinated as vaccines remain our best tool to combat the spread of COVID-19. The university is communicating vaccination information directly to students to encourage them as well. The university will also continue to offer ready access to vaccines, including offering pop-up vaccine clinics when the semester begins. Please note that the university is prohibited from inquiring about the vaccination status of any individual (student, staff or faculty). It is therefore imperative that staff and faculty treat each other and all students equally, regardless of their vaccination status.
- The university is providing testing kits to asymptomatic UT Austin students and employees to help the campus community monitor and respond to COVID-19 cases.
Faculty Teaching Guidance
- The university has developed specific guidance and options for faculty in the classroom including new options to reduce classroom density and increase social distancing, use of online office hours, plans for contact tracing, and resources for recording course content. Please see the message to faculty from Provost Sharon Wood.
- College of Education faculty may also partner with the Office of Instructional Innovation to develop high-quality learning experiences using educational technology.
New Guidance for Faculty and Staff Living with Immunocompromised Dependents
- Immunocompromised individuals are most at risk from COVID-19. Individual faculty and staff members should submit their requests for accommodations for their own medical conditions through the ADA accommodation process.
- Due to the nature of the Delta variant, UT recognizes that some faculty scheduled to teach in-person will need to move their courses online for the 2021 fall semester for the safety of an immunocompromised dependent who lives with the faculty member. Based on currently available data on serology post-vaccination and expert opinion, a faculty member will automatically qualify for a flexible teaching modality arrangement if their dependent has one of the preapproved conditions listed below. The flexible teaching modality arrangement will allow the faculty member to move their course(s) and all meetings online for the 2021 fall semester. Faculty members with flexible teaching modality arrangements are expected not to travel during the 2021 fall semester.
- Dependents with solid organ transplants or stem cell transplants
- Dependents who are currently in cycle for chemotherapy or cancers associated with immune deficiency (leukemias and lymphomas)
- Dependents with chronic inflammatory diseases treated with systemic corticosteroid therapy > 20 mg prednisone daily, immunomodulator medications, and/or biologic agents
- Dependents with primary immune deficiency disorders.
- Dependents with immune deficiencies due to HIV infection.
- Dependents with sickle cell disease (not trait).
- Dependents with surgical asplenia
- Faculty who do not have a personal medical condition or disability that makes them high-risk for COVID-19, but live with such a dependent, should fill out the faculty flexible teaching form.
- At this time, living with a child under the age of 12 who is not immunocompromised will not qualify the faculty member for a flexible teaching modality arrangement.
- Staff who do not have a personal medical condition or disability that makes them high-risk for COVID-19, but live with such a dependent, should contact their supervisor to discuss flexible work options that may be available to them.
- For students, living in university-owned residential properties (on-campus residence halls, 2400 Nueces and the University Apartments) is conditional upon getting a viral COVID-19 test within 72 hours (3 days) prior to moving in. They will need to show proof of a negative test result at check-in, prior to receiving their keys.
- The university has also determined that all students coming to campus for the fall semester must receive a viral COVID-19 test in their local community within 72 hours prior to arrival in Austin for move in. If they already reside in Austin, they must test within 72 hours of moving into the residence where they will reside for the academic semester. Finally, individuals who are already living in the residence in Austin where they will reside this academic semester should test within 72 hours (3 days) prior to the start of class on Aug. 25.
I understand that the current COVID climate has been, and continues to be, trying on us all in varying ways. I also know that many in our community may still be worried about their health and safety even with the revised strategies that UT has put in place. Please know that your campus leaders are doing all they can to ensure the safety of our community in line with current federal and state guidance and with state-level executive orders. And still, we are making progress and will continue to do so as we learn more and more about the variant(s), safety measures and innovative ways to teach, learn and support our community.
Thank you, as always. I hope to see you tomorrow at our college Town Hall.
CHARLES R. MARTINEZ, JR. | Dean and Professor
The University of Texas at Austin | College of Education