Why is Queen’s requiring students to attend Super Spreader events this holiday season?: Letter

By: Abigail McLean

Seemingly deaf to calls from public health officials for greater caution as the number of cases rises across the province, Queen’s University has made the outrageous decision to proceed with in-person examinations this holiday season, forcing students to sit in crowded gyms.

This decision to require hundreds of students to take exams in the same room is in stark contrast to KFLA’s recently announced public health restriction of a 10-person limit on meetings and to the decisions of universities across the country, and should being canceled before the university endangers the health of its students and the entire Kingston community.

This decision is not only dangerous, but it also contradicts other decisions that Queen’s has made this week. With multiple instances of Omicron in the student community, Queen’s has moved the remaining classes to an online format, seemingly recognizing the risk of in-person meetings for students, while allowing exams to continue as scheduled, despite calls from KFLA Public Health.

This lack of consistency is not only unacceptable, it puts students, their families, and entire communities at risk. Queen’s claims that in-person exams will be safe, targeting measures such as physical distancing while waiting in line to enter the exam site, however, from the first-hand accounts many students shared with me, this is anything but true, as seen. in the photo at the beginning of this letter.

As troubling as the decision to force students to take tests in person is, what is so shocking is the sudden change the school has made regarding COVID precautions for students. When Queen’s presented the new COVID academic considerations on November 29, they told students to take the following steps: “DO NOT attend classes, labs, final exams if you are not feeling well. If you miss a class, exam, or other academic requirement due to COVID-19 disease, symptoms, or self-isolation requirement, you will be given academic consideration. No documentation (ie medical notes) is required. ”

Without explanation or notice, Queen’s has recently changed this requirement (without notifying students) and students are now only exempted if they receive a positive PCR test, which is nearly impossible given that students cannot access the testing facility .

PCR tests have been nearly impossible to obtain in recent weeks in Kingston, with test wait times of more than a week, and some students travel to Ottawa to get tested and take their exams.

Queen’s announced the opening of a testing center on campus on December 10, but according to students who contacted me, there are no appointments today, they are not open on weekends, and they are not yet accepting appointments for next week.

What’s worse is that even when students have been screened and their close contacts identified as at risk of being infected, they are still required to attend exams in person. Countless students have approached me to tell me that despite being identified by KFLA as a high risk contact and having been told to isolate myself, Queen’s still requires them to write exams.

This forces students to have to choose between potentially failing their classes or protecting the health of other students. Students now have to wait a week to get tested, miss exams and flights home, only to sit in a gym with 400 other students, many of whom are likely close contacts who should isolate themselves, or who may carry COVID. When tuition is over twenty thousand dollars for some students, it is not difficult to understand why some choose to forgo testing in order not to fail their courses.

Queen faculty and administration have responded to emails from concerned students letting them know that it is too expensive to move exams online at this time. A teacher told a student that “[moving exams online] it would be costly and time-consuming, making it difficult, if not unnecessary, to switch the exam to an online format. “

It should be alarming for all students and their families to hear that financial considerations are more important to Queen’s than the health of its students and their communities.

Queen would do well to consider the pervasive and long-term costs of allowing exams to be taken in person, which far outweighs the costs of moving exams online. There are much higher long-term costs to the school in terms of reputation and financial support from students, donors and families who may withdraw financial support from Queen’s, than the cost of changing test formats.

For a school that is already concerned about enrollment, it is a foolish decision to force students to take exams in person, as prospective students will not want to attend a school that has demonstrated a deliberate disregard for the health and safety of the students.

Queen’s has been mindful of student concerns about their “safe” return to campus since September. I, along with other student council presidents, have been telling deans and vice deans since the beginning of the semester why their policies don’t work, how students don’t feel safe, and how necessary a testing center on campus. I have been continually fired (and other students) at these meetings or deferred their response to someone who was not even at the meeting.

The Queen’s administration has been silencing student voices all year long, and it has never been more apparent to what extent they will ignore students to get them to do things their way. See Figures 4 and 5 at the end of the letter for excerpts from the ArtSci faculty board meeting in September 2021, where myself and other students were essentially ignored.

Queen’s has not had exams on campus for the entire semester, has barely enforced COVID policies, and has been anything but accommodating throughout the semester. Now they refuse to move the exams online? It has never been clearer to me how little Queen’s cares about its students.

Queen’s has a duty to prevent the further spread and impact of COVID in Kingston. Queen’s is putting not only the student community at risk, but the entire KFLA community, as well as the thousands of student families, risking overwhelming the healthcare system.

Rather than help protect students, Queen’s is making the situation worse. Queen’s has run out of places to isolate students, and now COVID-positive students are isolated on dorm floors with students who are not infected. These students now have to isolate themselves for ten days due to cases on their floor, which means that the students are missing flights home, which requires 14-day isolation periods before boarding, which means that these students cannot attend exams nor can they go home for the holidays.

Queen’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of students in this situation also means that many graduate students have had to postpone exams until August 2022, or that they are unable to meet deadlines to apply to graduate programs.

When students return home over the next several weeks, many of them can spread COVID across the country. like them. Many students have told me how they do not feel safe returning home for the holidays and putting their immunosuppressed family members at potentially fatal risk for COVID.

Queen’s should allow students to choose whether to write tests in person or online, with or without COVID documentation (for some students, such as those with certain disabilities, writing in person is a better option and in small amounts can be done safely) .

I call on Queen’s to work with Student Wellness Services to work to accommodate and waive those who may need in-person exams, but to move most exams online in the interest of public health.

This letter is a call for Queen’s to take responsibility and listen to its students. Countless students have contacted me to inform me that their emails to faculty and administration have been ignored or received unsatisfactory responses that do not address concerns that are widely shared among the student body.

The petition I started last night and has received over 2800 signatures in less than 24 hours. It is clear that the vast majority of the student community does not feel safe writing exams in person at this time, and the implications of holding exams in person extend far beyond the student community. It should raise some questions when students take COVID more seriously than the university administration.

I implore Queen’s to protect the safety and well-being of the student community, as well as that of thousands of people in the KFLA region and across Canada, and change the online exams (with exceptions for those who need to write in person) . Figures 9-15 are just a few of the many messages I have received from the Queen student community, which have been addressed to me, another student, since management does not listen.

Student waiting outside an exam place on December 9


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