Learning in the face of Omicron

Humboldt plans to start in-person classes amidst Omicron variant surge
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Humboldt State intends to return to in-person classes as a growing list of California schools start the spring semester remotely. In a letter addressed to the student body and campus community, the school announced that spring instruction will not change. Classes will begin as planned on Jan. 18, despite growing concern from students and the community. Cal State Long Beach, San Diego State, Sacramento State, Cal State Channel Islands, Fresno State, Cal State East Bay, Cal State San Marcos, and San Francisco State will not be returning to in-person instruction yet.

Humboldt county has seen a recent spike in cases after the holidays. Last week the Humboldt County Health Department recorded 1,113 new cases of COVID-19. A new local record for new cases in a week. The omicron variant is responsible for the surge according to the health department website. The letter from HSU administrators says the decision was made in consultation with Humboldt County Public Health.

“[Humboldt County Public Health] is in full support of these plans,” the letter read. “Vaccine and booster requirements, mandatory testing, masking, and other mitigating factors make the likelihood of infectious spread in the classroom low.”

Students and the community are critical of the administration’s decision. Immunocompromised students will have to evaluate if risking health is worth the education. Ash McElroy is a freshman who works at the Social Justice Equity and Inclusion Center. McElroy is immunocompromised thanks to multiple chronic illnesses.

“I do feel like the administration is putting all immunocompromised students at risk by not even considering staying online,” McElroy said. “Too often disabled students are treated as an afterthought. During this pandemic, we are treated as expendable. Disabled students are still paying the same tuition abled students are, and we should get the same amount of consideration.”

Madeline Claire is an immunocompromised bio major who felt that the administration was not taking community concerns seriously. Claire reached out to the campus coordinator but did not feel she was offered solutions or help.

“As an immunocompromised person I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much to stay safe, and to me, this feels like the University is forcing me to choose between my education and my health,” Claire said. “It seems like the administration either doesn’t know what to do about Omicron or doesn’t care, and frankly I don’t know which is worse.”

A petition to “Delay the start of face-to-face instruction at HSU to protect students and faculty” has been circulating through social media. Students and community members explained their reasons for signing on the petition site. Mariano Marroquin gave a reason for signing.

“I’m a student who wants to return to classes but doesn’t want to risk my health,” Marroquin said.

Johann Waltberg commented, “As a local resident, the availability of medical services is important to me. An outbreak at HSU will negatively affect all of us.”

A few hundred signatures accompany comments supporting an online start to the semester. The push for online classes was expected as HSU faced a challenge to its accreditation. Last semester WASC expected HSU to offer more than fifty percent in-person classes by the spring semester.

WASC evaluates and accredits colleges and universities to ensure they meet educational goals and standards. For nearly two years students have been learning with online accommodations in response to social distancing protocol. The Department of Education required an end to the temporary authorization of remote instruction by December 2021. To meet WASC accreditation standards, HSU must offer more than 50% in-person classes.

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