Emily wrote this piece a few days ago, and it is really worth reading. Because I work for a community college, I wanted to respond to it because it’s something I’m going to be having to work with if/when we go back fully in person for Fall Quarter.
**DISCLAIMER** EVERYTHING I’M ABOUT TO SAY APPLIES TO THE SITUATION THAT EXISTS AT PRESENT WITH THE INFORMATION I HAVE BEEN GIVEN ABOUT WHAT COULD POTENTIALLY HAPPEN DURING FALL QUARTER. THIS IS ALL SUBJECT TO CHANGE AS WE LEARN MORE.
Please understand that any mask or vaccination mandate is made with the safety of the people on campus in mind. I haven’t seen the inside of any building on campus since March 9, 2020 when the staff got an email from the college president stating that some CNA students had been exposed to COVID at a skilled-care facility and had been on campus the same week. The campus was supposed to be shut down for a week for deep cleaning… and we all know how that ended. Currently, the campus is open Monday-Wednesday with a mask mandate because Summer Quarter tends to have a smaller number of students taking classes. The situation is being monitored very closely, and we’ll find out next week if there will continue to be a mask mandate and likely a vaccination mandate.
One of the reasons I love working for my college is that they honestly do care about the students, staff, and faculty. This means that our college president tends to be very risk-averse. It has nothing to do with politics or violating people’s Constitutional rights. (Spoiler alert: mask mandates fall under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution which leaves the decision up to the states because they are not specifically mentioned in any article of the document nor in any amendment that is part of the Bill of Rights.) He is very concerned about keeping everyone safe on campus. This means that you may not like the decisions made, and those decisions may mean that it would be safer for you to take classes remotely if you cannot wear a mask for a legitimate physical reason. Emily talked about how she wouldn’t have been able to attend school if she had to mask up during high school and college, and that might be what the present situation requires because we would want to keep her safe and protect her as much as we could from contracting COVID.
Please understand that the majority of people who are getting worked up about a mask mandate are doing so because it is inconvenient for them to wear a mask, so please be patient with us as we try to filter them out. I’m not going to lie–this woman (also known as a “Karen”) is an example of what all of us are dreading with having a mask mandate on campus.
I’ve seen them at Starbucks, I’ve seen them at my grocery store, and I absolutely expect to encounter them on campus. It’s especially frustrating because we have a staff member in my program who can’t be vaccinated (due to an anaphylactic reaction to shot #1 of Pfizer), and the mask mandate and potential vaccine mandate (from which she is exempted) exist to keep her and others like her safe. The rise in Delta variant cases in this area is unnerving for her because masks are not required in a lot of places in our area, although that is starting to change.
I’ve known Emily online for years now, and I know that she is *NOT* one of these Karens. (I mean, she has a legitimate issue, and she also has manners.) However, when institutions hear that someone wants an exemption from wearing a mask, the image of the Karen is going to be the first thing to pop up because they’re the most vocal. It’s going to take a bit to filter the Karens out, so please be patient with us.
If you have a legitimate physical reason to not wear a mask, please work with us ahead of time. If you have a situation like Emily’s, please understand that staff like me are not far enough up the food chain to exempt people from the mask mandate. If you show me a doctor’s note, I’m going to tell you that I can’t let you in the room maskless without the permission of my boss, even I do believe that you have a valid request.
If your child is a K-12 student, please talk to the school district before the school year starts to find out what accommodations can be made as it is going to create a really difficult situation if they show up on the first day of school without a mask on in a district that requires them. It might be that they need to do remote education because of the risk of infection if they’re on campus, but they might be OK on campus with certain conditions. The school district will also have you put together an individualized health plan (IHP) for your child with the school nurse so that they know how to handle any medications or what to do if something happens.
If you are at a community college or 4-year university, it’s a sticky situation because there are privacy issues involved. Your best bet (as far as I know) is to contact whoever handles disability issues before move-in day (if you attend a school with dorms) or the first day of classes. On my campus, it is Disability Access Services. (I’m going to use them as an example for the rest of this post.) They can tell you what can or cannot be done. You can find them by calling the school and asking to be connected. They’re great people, and they’d love to work with you. They might even be able to get you a pass for better parking on campus to keep you from getting too winded while walking to class! (The community college where I work has no good student parking after around 7:45 or 8:00 in the morning, and this stinks if you’ve got any kind of impaired lung function. Ask me how I know this.)
If you provide us documentation on your inability to wear a mask or be vaccinated, please make sure it’s something legitimate. A letter from your pulmonologist with lung function information attached would be an example of good documentation. A “mask exemption” card printed off the Internet is not. Ask the DAS people what they need so that you can be prepared ahead of time.
If we do have a vaccination mandate, there will be information on the website about how that will work. If you can’t be vaccinated for health reasons, you’ll probably need to get a note from your doctor that has all the proper information on it. (Your doctor’s office has the right stationery for things like this.)
Please don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself if you are hard of hearing. If you have hearing loss of any kind, you probably know already that you need to go talk to Disability Access Services so that they can provide accommodations. They’ll let your instructor know that they have a student with hearing issues in their class, but they might not give them a lot of information. If you email your instructor and let them know that you need a notetaker, they’ll find a student in the class who can do that on the first day of school. (I know this because I’ve worked as one before.) Your instructor will probably offer you some extra Zoom office hours, and it would be super helpful to let them know if they need to avoid virtual backgrounds or focus on their face to make sure you can see their lips well. If you need an interpreter, the DAS can provide one for you. I can’t think of any instructor I work with on a regular basis who wouldn’t work with you to find a way to help you succeed.
This also goes for tutors as well. We don’t get notified by the DAS (because it’s a privacy issue), so please put it in your tutor request paperwork if this is something we need to know. My boss is actually a former interpreter and works part-time for the DAS, so she’s going to be one of the people getting things worked out for you. I do contact students ahead of time to ask if there’s anything I need to know to help them succeed, so this is your opportunity to tell me that you need to see my face and my lips. I’m known for being a tutor that will do just about anything to make sure my students do well, so please tell me how I can make things work for you.
(I’m not going into what needs to happen in a K-12 setting because if your kid has hearing problems, you’re probably hooked up with a 504 plan and know your Special Services people well. I speak from experience because my kiddo has mild/moderate hearing loss and wears hearing aids, so we have a deaf/hard-of-hearing teacher that is part of his IEP team.)
If you are pushing back against the mandate because wearing a mask is merely inconvenient for you, please understand that we do not have to accommodate you in the way you desire. I am absolutely happy to accommodate someone with a proven and legitimate need, but “I don’t wanna wear a mask” and “mah rightz!” are not legitimate needs. If you show up at the door of the classroom where I am working and throw a temper tantrum because I’m insisting that you put on a mask, I’m going to call campus security and have you removed from the building. I’m not going to yell at you, but I’m not going to let you disturb my students.
We’re not heartless (and my program is dedicated to student success), so we *WILL* have information on the accommodation that we’ll provide… which is getting to access all of our services online. All of us working this fall have tutored online before, some of us for 6 quarters!
Please understand that we’re doing the best we can. This pandemic is unlike anything that has happened in the USA in the last hundred years. We are doing the best we can to keep everyone safe while meeting people’s needs.
For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.