This message was originally sent to instructors by Vivek Goel, President and Vice-Chancellor, and James W.E. Rush, Vice-President, Academic and Provost.
We have shared a message with everyone today confirming our decision to return to mask-wearing for any indoor activity that is part of academic course delivery. We’re making this change now to protect members of our community as the data trends point to increased levels of COVID and other airborne diseases in circulation. We also want to try to reduce the amount of disruption these trends could cause to the exam season.
We are grateful for your perseverance and support to help students keep learning as the pandemic throws more uncertainty at us all. As instructors, we know you have worked very hard over the last couple of years to make learning a success. Thank you for everything you have done and are doing to give students the best possible Waterloo experience.
We also know you will have detailed questions about what this return to masking will mean for your course activities. To help you, we’re sharing some questions and answers below. If you have other questions, you can discuss them with your associate deans, or email firstname.lastname@example.org and the team will get back to you as soon as possible. We’ll be updating the COVID-19 website with this information, and any more frequently asked questions the team receives.
Can I remove my mask to teach? Can students remove their masks to present?
If you can maintain physical distancing (two meters is a good guide) when teaching or presenting, then you can temporarily remove your mask. This also applies to students who are presenting.
Do we need to maintain physical distancing in classrooms, labs or lecture theatres?
We have not reintroduced other public health measures so physical distancing is not required. We require everyone to wear a mask for all indoor academic activities.
What are “indoor academic activities”?
We’re introducing this mask requirement specifically to protect people who are learning and working near others particularly in large groups, and to reduce disruption to the important end of term exam season. This means we are defining “academic activities” broadly. Academic activities will include lectures, seminars, teaching labs, tests, exams, all other forms of academic instruction wherever it happens indoors, office hours meetings and more.
If students are in any doubt, we’re asking them to wear a mask. We can all participate by positively encouraging the community to wear a mask in most settings.
If my academic activities do not take place inside “instructional spaces” do all participants still need to wear a mask?
Yes. Regardless of the indoor space you are in, we require a mask for all academic activities happening indoors.
Does this new mask requirement apply in research labs?
We’re asking leaders in research labs where instruction happens to consider their circumstances and make their own decision about masking. As a guide, in labs with tight, crowded spaces mask-wearing should be required.
Does this new requirement apply in libraries, food courts or the residences?
This requirement does not apply in non-instructional areas like food courts or the residences. However, we strongly encourage everyone to consider wearing a mask in all indoor settings.
If my academic activities happen outside, do I need to wear a mask?
No, though we strongly encourage you to wear a mask when you are in close contact with others. Please consider wearing a tight-fitting, multi-layer mask. A medical-style mask is best.
What do I do if a student is not wearing a mask?
We all have a role to play in ensuring students understand expectations about wearing masks when in academic settings. Faculty and instructors are asked to remind students of the mask wearing requirement. If a student is not wearing a mask, you can ask them to put one on or invite them to leave the class or examination.
As is the case in any term, instructors may be faced with behaviour in or near a learning space that impedes the effective delivery of their session. Instructors should use their best judgement about how and whether to attempt to end such disruptions so that the session can continue (asking disruptors in a class to leave, asking disruptors outside the class to move to another place, etc.).
If a student indicates they are unable to wear a mask for medical or other reasons, you may request proof of their accommodation, and if unavailable, choose to ask the student(s) to leave the class or examination until their accommodation status is confirmed. If a student has an accommodation related to face coverings, they are expected to present this to the instructor in advance.
As is always the case, you can report issues to the relevant associate dean under Policy 71.
Will the University put signs up to make students aware of spaces that require masks?
We have developed new posters that we will endeavour to post on the doors to all large classrooms and lecture theatres. We will work with administrators across the University to make these posters available for everyone to use as needed.
We have also created a “masks required” PowerPoint slide that you can use to display at the start of classes.
Can I, as the instructor, cancel an in-person course, or move an in-person course online, if I feel the in-person classroom situation is not safe?
This is not a decision to be made unilaterally by a course instructor. If you have health and safety concerns specifically about the instructional space or class behaviour, your first step should be to discuss them with your department chair, who may consult offices that have influence over operations or the conduct that is causing concern.
If this does not resolve the situation, instructors or TAs may also contact a worker rep of the Joint Health & Safety Committee (JHSC) for advice, or request further consultation from the Safety Office. The University has a work refusal process to address unresolved concerns where work is thought to be unsafe after consulting with the chair.