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Several students in the School of Social Work have called for Dean Lynn Videka and Social Work School administrators to resign after they failed to inform students of a student who tested positive for COVID-19 and had attended in-person classes.
Dean Videka wrote in an email to Social Work School faculty on Sept. 15 that three faculty members, including herself, were notified a student in the Dean’s in-person course tested positive for COVID-19.
“We immediately advised those faculty to move their course sections online if they were not already online,” Videka wrote. “While we do not know student identities, or even whether these are unique cases, the university’s contact tracing program will notify any SSW individuals who were actually exposed to the COVID-19 positive community member.”
Not all of those in the class section with the student who tested positive were informed, as being in a socially distanced classroom setting would not constitute exposure according to University Health Service. Videka wrote in her email that faculty could inform their section that a student tested positive so students could monitor their symptoms.
Hours after Videka’s email to faculty, a junior faculty member sent the announcement to a School of Social Work listserv including students, faculty, staff and alumni. However, no email was sent directly to students, generating concern as Social Work students often go on field placements and interact with high-risk community members.
In emails obtained by The Michigan Daily, dozens of Social Work students and faculty members called for Videka’s resignation and for SSW to conduct all classes virtually. A petition received more than 380 signatures to move all Social Work School classes online as of Wednesday night.
“The School of Social Work has not been transparent about whether online instruction will be guaranteed to those who need it or how that will be executed,” the petition reads. “Online class spots are low, and requests for online are high.”
The petition also describes holding in-person classes as reckless and ableist, as it assumes that “in-person attendance is inherently ‘better’ than online attendance.”
Social Work student Sidney Arrington called for Videka and the entire Social Work School administration to resign after she saw the dean’s email to faculty.
“Being a dean or being in administration is a privilege and a power,” Arrington said. “Of course, you’re going to have hard decisions, and of course, everybody wants us to give them grace. And we’re attempting as students to give the administration grace. All we are asking is for an email (informing students of COVID-19 exposure).”
Arrington said students are doing their job holding the administration accountable to be transparent with students.
“I think the whole administration could go, or whoever needs to go, because all we’re asking for is transparency, nothing more, nothing less,” Arrington said.
In an email to The Daily, Lisa Raycraft, School of Social Work communications and public relations manager, said Videka will not be resigning. She also said faculty in the positive student’s class sections were asked to inform other students in those classes.
“University Health System — in collaboration with the Office of the Registrar — notified those taking in-person classes with the positive individual,” Raycraft wrote. “In an effort to protect privacy, public health community notifications regarding positive cases in classrooms are not posted and not included in building notifications.”
Videka wrote in an email to The Daily the Social Work School has worked to accommodate student, faculty and staff preferences by holding classes in person and virtually this semester.
“There are a range of School of Social Work faculty and student opinions and preferences about the best format for this semester’s academic program,” Videka said. “At the School, students and faculty of all ranks have the choice to participate in all online or hybrid classes. We have worked hard to accommodate all social work students and faculty preferences. We will always follow the laws and regulations of our state and region as well as campus policy.”
Arrington said just as students are responsible to learn and hold administration accountable for their actions, University administration should resign if they do not respond to students’ demands.
“I think students aren’t trying to attack the administration on the University level or on the smaller scale at the School of Social Work,” Arrington said. “Students are doing their job at holding administration accountable, and this is something that they should encourage … It’s not from a place of disrespect. It’s kind of like, we’re doing our job, could you do yours?”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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