KU to consider COVID testing for admittance to certain events; university provides other details on return to school
photo by: Chris Conde
University of Kansas leaders are open to requiring a negative test or proof of vaccination for admittance to certain university events, a spokeswoman said on the heels of a faculty petition calling for stronger COVID standards.
“We will be providing significant incentives for unvaccinated students to get vaccinated as they return to campus,” KU spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said via email Monday evening.
KU’s statement came after a group of nearly 250 faculty members delivered a petition to the chancellor’s office calling for stronger COVID protocols as KU begins its fall semester Aug. 23. Among the ideas touted by the faculty group were requirements that unvaccinated people provide proof of a recent negative COVID test before they are allowed to enter certain events, such as athletic contests or concerts.
KU stopped short of saying it would institute such a program, but left the door open for such testing requirements.
“It is possible that some specific locations both on and off campus may require a negative test before unvaccinated people can participate in activities,” Barcomb-Peterson said via email.
Barcomb-Peterson said KU would be providing different types of testing options this school year. That includes rapid antigen tests, which will allow results to come back in a matter of minutes rather than days. KU plans to offer those tests for free to students.
KU, however, is not mandating that all students be tested upon arriving at campus. Rather, students who live in on-campus housing will be required to either show proof of vaccination or take a test when they start moving into their dormitories.
KU, like all other public universities in the state, is not requiring a vaccine for students. KU contends that state law limits the university’s ability to mandate vaccines or require proof of vaccination.
But as reported, KU has set up a voluntary system for students to upload a proof of vaccination form — sometimes called a vaccine passport — to KU’s student health system. In some of KU’s first public comments on the system, Barcomb-Peterson said Monday that the proof of vaccination forms would be used in at least three ways:
• To enable the university’s housing department to verify a resident’s vaccination status and to determine whether testing of residents is needed.
• To determine who is eligible for incentives that will be offered to people who are vaccinated. KU has yet to announce any incentives it plans to offer students who are vaccinated. In a staff email last week, Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said KU would “soon announce some amazing incentives for students who have been or plan to be vaccinated when they arrive on our campuses.”
• To estimate the percentage of vaccinated individuals on campus. That data will be used to inform future policy decisions related to COVID, Barcomb-Peterson said.
She said the proof of vaccination forms would be securely kept to protect the privacy of students. Other than select housing administrators, individual student information won’t be available to administrators. Rather, university administrators will have only aggregate data from the proof of vaccination forms.
None of the information provided by Barcomb-Peterson suggested that KU is backing away from its plans for robust, in-person learning on the KU campus this fall. Rather, a pair of memos sent to faculty and graduate teaching assistants last week highlighted the importance KU is placing on in-person instruction.
“The pandemic imparted several lessons about student engagement, instruction mode and academic rigor,” Bichelmeyer said in an email to graduate teaching assistants last week. “Many students learned they need the interaction and opportunities that can be optimized through an in-person setting. We also know this past year that limited in-person interaction had significant effects on our students’ collective mental health. We absolutely must meet the needs of our students and our institution.”
Bichelmeyer said instructors were not allowed to change the course format from in-person to online without approval of their dean.
“Students enrolled in fall classes with specific expectation of the educational mode and academic experience,” she said in the email.
She said university-appointed teams would monitor conditions and make announcements if a shift in class format became necessary.
Bichelmeyer also said that instructors were “under no obligation” to provide an online format for their in-person classes. That means that students who no longer can attend an in-person class are not required to receive that instruction through an online component.
“Students were advised they should enroll in fall semester courses that are offered in the format they need,” Bichelmeyer wrote. “Those students who need courses in online or hybrid formats should work with their advisor to find suitable courses that will help them stay on track in their programs.”
It was unclear from the email what options students who tested positive for COVID and were required to isolate for many days, for example, would have for staying on track during those days when they are not allowed to attend in-person classes.
Other details in the memos sent to faculty and GTAs included:
• Classroom capacity — the number of students allowed in a classroom at once — will be greater than it was last academic year for classes that were held in-person. However, “many rooms will have more space per student than pre-pandemic due to the new capacity standards,” the memo stated.
• KU has installed air filtration systems for many classrooms and other shared indoor spaces. Air handling systems also have been inspected to ensure they meet guidance for ventilation standards.
• Testing is available to any university member by calling Watkins Health Services at 785-864-9583 to schedule a testing time.
• Multiple vaccination clinics have been scheduled as classes begin. They include: noon to 2 p.m. Aug. 21 at Watkins Health Services; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 23 – Aug. 27 at level 4 of Kansas Union; 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 31 to Sept. 1 in the lobby of the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center.