The first week back on campus for many of us has been very difficult. Changing schedules, finalizing syllabi, meetings, and the general state of the world have left us exhausted emotionally, physically, and mentally. And yet, our faculty continue to perform, do more with less, and have complied to make sure our students receive the highest level of education possible.
Many of you have voiced concerns about the preparedness of the college when Face-to-Face classes resume on Monday. The administration has affirmed that it is safe to return to the classroom and guidelines and precautions are in place. If you are feeling unsure, as many of us are, ask your department head and find out if these precautions have happened and your space is ready. Below you will find a draft email that you may edit in anyway you choose to ask your department if in fact they are following the guidelines they have prepared. Choose the most important issues for you or add more. Anything that might help you feel secure to check in before you enter on Monday. Send it over the weekend and hopefully, your department will give you a reply sooner than later. As we prepare and practice over this weekend, as we have with semesters in the past, see if they are taking the same care and professionalism to give our students the best first day of the semester.
As always, if you have questions or concerns, please reach out via StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com or by visiting our contact page.
Subject Line: Requesting Verification of Implementation of COVID19 Precautions Body Paragraph (edit as you see fit, especially the last paragraph): Hello, in light of all faculty returning to teach in-person classes this week, I would like to request some verification that the following PSC COVID-19 precautions have actually been effectively implemented.
Limited class sizes to the maximum number of students specific for each classroom to maintain six-foot social distancing
Scheduled on campus sections in largest classrooms when possible
Providing face coverings and face shields to employees and students
Providing disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer
Installed 200 Plexiglass barriers at critical points of contact, with 200 more to be installed
Providing gloves for labs and places where items are frequently touched
Providing 2000 keyboard skins to allow ease in disinfecting shared keyboards
Installing HEPA filters in all air systems
In particular, for my classrooms and labs, I have not been provided face-coverings, face-shields, gloves, or keyboard skins, nor can I be sure that HEPA filters have been installed in the air systems that service the rooms I’ll be using. Please confirm, ASAP, that these precautions have not yet been taken, or let me know where I can find the resources to apply these precautions in my face-to-face assignments.
(On behalf of Pensacola State College Faculty Association-UFF; can put reporters in touch with chapter members)
Faculty at Pensacola State College:
My Life or My Livelihood? Don’t Make Us Choose
PSC leaders endanger the lives and well-being of high-risk educators and their families by denying continued live online instruction
PENSACOLA, Fla. —Pensacola State College (PSC) mandated “face-to-face” instruction for the spring 2021 semester, with a requirement of at least two face-to-face classes per instructor “without exception.” Faculty requests for live online instruction have been turned down, even for those with medically documented illnesses that place them at high risk, even risk of death. The United Faculty of Florida (UFF) filed a class action grievance in December on behalf of all faculty, and the push to protect at-risk educators continues this week. Several faculty members also are stepping forward to tell their own stories, below.
Across the state, most colleges and universities are staying primarily remote to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and protect lives. Campuses that are increasing in-person instruction in larger numbers are continuing to accommodate high risk employees as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That is obviously not the case at PSC. Find attached letters sent this week by Pensacola State College Faculty Association-United Faculty of Florida (PSCFA-UFF) and retained counsel regarding faculty members who have requested remote work or other appropriate accommodations for a variety of reasons, including severe medical conditions that the CDC warns could lead to severe illness or death. View the letters online here: https://myuff.org/uff-psc-takes-legal-action-covid-19-accommodation-request-denials/
“At the start of the new year, just this past week, I have heard from distraught faculty who have sold their houses and got their estates in order in preparation for going into the classrooms and labs in-person,” said Candi Churchill, executive director of UFF. “UFF is exploring all our options — including escalating legal action — and will stand by faculty who are being forced to choose between their lives and their livelihoods for no pedagogical or practical reason. Students are preferring live on-line instruction in these uncertain times, but the PSC president (Dr. Edward Meadows) and vice president (Dr. Erin Spicer) are ignoring medical professionals at the expense of educators, students and the PSC community.”
In their own words
Here are some of the stories shared with UFF by faculty:
Jen Ehrhardt, Business faculty member
I have ongoing serious health issues with my lungs and my doctor has said to me that if I get sick again it will be my premature death. He says I am at high risk with Covid exposure and potential illness.
I feel very threatened by the prospect of going back to face-to-face in the classroom. As a professor, I’m also concerned about the pedagogy, and feel it’s a disservice to the students to take them into a face-to-face environment right now when we were thriving on-line, because it’s not really face-to-face – it is mask-to-mask. Yes, we’ll be in the same physical location, but we won’t be able to offer the students the same pedagogy the students think they are getting. … Education is a very emotional profession. Teaching and learning is a human thing, and we’re not going to connect as well with our students while wearing masks and keeping our distance.
Vaidehi Kumar, Computer Science faculty member
I have severe type 2 diabetes. Both my parents had it and my mom died of it. I am 58, my husband is 75, and he already had a heart attack. He’s on 10 different cardiac medications. If I get the virus, it’s inevitable other house members would have it, so I’m very concerned. My daughter used to work for the CDC and she is begging me not to leave the house. I have quarantined since March, but I don’t want to lose my retirement or lose my job. I am being forced back to in-person and I don’t understand why my request was denied.
Brigette Robinson, English and Communications faculty member
Our class interactions in the fall via Zoom were more enjoyable than face-to-face classes because the interaction was more community-minded; I was not so distanced from the students. I’m concerned with the decision-making process at PSC. I have someone living in my house in the high-risk category; I’ve expressed that to the college. I also have a family member right now in intensive care who is in the hospital because he contracted Covid when he went back to work. He’s been in the ICU for seven days now, and he did not have any pre-existing issues, so I’m concerned that the administration is not effectively evaluating the evidence in front of them when they are making decisions, which is disappointing because it’s the one thing we teach in higher ed – preparing future leaders to evaluate information and look at what is most current. We have increased cases climbing every day, and we also have a mutated version of the virus now that will add to this whole situation. It is the administration’s responsibility to make a decision based on the information in front of them and how it impacts the entire community. The entire community’s health is at stake. I find it disappointing that our PSC leaders would not be modeling good behavior, something that they expect from our graduates.
Higher Education Affiliate of Florida Education Association, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and AFL-CIO
“Legal services have been retained to represent the United Faculty of Florida, Pensacola State College Chapter Faculty and Staff members who are being denied requests for reasonable accommodations, i.e., to work from home rather than on campus, due to having an illness or condition that causes an increased risk of severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19. The two letters below were sent to the Pensacola State College President informing of the potential violation of statues.”
“If you are hearing of members forced to work in person when they are high risk or have been denied an ADA request, please get in touch with your field staff labor relations person.” –Candi Churchill, Executive Director of United Faculty of Florida
Thank you everyone who attended our faculty wide meeting on January 6th. We had a great turn out, we heard your concerns as we start the Spring Semester, and we’ve got some new plans in place for the semester ahead. We’ll have a full recap of the meeting posted here soon.
A big take away from the meeting is something you can add to your course syllabi before you start classes on the 8th. Wearing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing are key in helping prevent you and others from getting infected. Make that clear in your syllabus. Here is some example language that will help make it clear to your students that these are rules that must be followed to remain in class:
“We begin this spring semester in the midst of a global pandemic that, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), has claimed the lives of 303, 823 Americans as of December 31, 2020. Closer to home, 513 residents of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have succumbed to the virus. While the number of positive cases continue to spike in our two-county area, vaccination programs are slowly rolling out, though most medical experts expect the impact of these vaccinations to be fully realized by late spring. The administration of PSC has determined that it is safe to expand on-campus course offerings this semester. In order to lessen the risk of COVID-19 being contracted in a class setting, the following guidelines must be followed:
Face masks/coverings must be properly worn at all times during class. Face masks/covering must cover both the nose and mouth. Students who do not wear masks/coverings during class meetings will be asked to leave, will be recorded as absent, and will not be allowed to make up any work missed as a result.
Social distancing guidelines must be followed.
Sanitize hands upon entering the classroom.”
Adjust the language as you would like for you syllabus, speak with your colleagues, and make changes as you see fit. This is strong language that can make for a better teaching environment.
Additionally, weekly faculty wide meetings will be planned for this semester. Currently set for Fridays at 11am, we will send out reminders and invites when the meetings are nailed down. Keep an eye on your emails. Recaps of these meetings will be posted here.
If you have questions or concerns, please do no hesitate to reach out to StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com or by using the contact page here.
Faculty will return for Non-Instructional Duty Days January 6th. This would normally be a time of faculty and staff working together to finish last minute preparations for classes, attending professional development workshops, and adjusting to the return to the classroom. But 2020 and the chaos of COVID-19 still linger large and we’re far from something normal. Vaccinations bring a great deal of hope returning to the normalcy we all crave and need, but educators in Florida will be left to wait.
But as we continue into the new semester, PSCFA will continue to keep its members updated to what is being done at PSC to protect faculty, students, and staff. On January 6th, at 11:15am CT we’ll be holding our General Membership meeting via Zoom. You can join the meeting by clicking the link here: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83161463489?pwd=aG9oREo4S3VMTHJDTlNQVWF3ZXNUZz09
You’ll be required to enter a passcode: 237847
If you have any questions prior to the meeting, you can always email us at StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com or by visiting our contact page.
After presenting background and data supporting the grievance, we were left with these questions:
How many online sections are offered, in total, by the College as of Fall 2020? What percentage of courses offered is that?
Assume the College’s plan is enacted: how many more students and faculty are expected to be on campus at a given time?
What is the College’s current plan for contact tracing? How does it utilize the County Department of Health’s services? Who is responsible for contacting faculty after students test positive?
We’ve received reports of students showing up for class positive with COVID-19 and informing faculty. What can the College do to prevent circumstances like this from happening again? What is the College’s communication plan regarding returning to campus and for communicating with faculty regarding infections among students and staff on campus?
When will faculty receive the College’s reopening plan? How is this plan still adequate, given how many more faculty and students will be on campus at a given time?
Why is this plan necessary? UWF and FSU are remaining with largely remote models of instruction and FSU faculty have been permitted to volunteer for F2F instruction. Tallahassee Community College is almost entirely online.
How many faculty have requested accommodations to work remotely for Spring 2021? How many have been granted? How many interactive meetings have been held, to date, regarding these requests?
The administration asked for time on several of the questions as more data is collected, but we strongly encourage you to take the time to watch the meeting to hear full responses.
The meeting concluded with PSCFA and UFF asking for an answer to the grievance as soon as possible. While the college is allowed until January 20th to give their response, we certainly hope it will come sooner.
This morning, PSC’s student newspaper, The Corsair, released their November/December 2020 issue digitally to PSC’s CollegeList email listserv. Despite the COVID Crisis, they have continued to produce the paper and have been publishing physically and online.
With the usual great reporting and features, this issue included an Opinion piece on PSCFA’s continuing efforts to include the faculty in the negotiations and plans for the Spring Semester and returning to face-to-face instruction, as well as offered their support to the cause.
We are very grateful for their reporting and writing. We are working to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and the community at large. Thank you for making this issue known to the student body and for your support.
Please show your appreciation and support of student led journalism, by reaching out The Corsair here.
First, good news. The Fall 2020 Letter of Agreement was ratified by the bargaining unit. We’ll have the signed copy from all sides posted here when it is available. If you have questions, please contact us here. Bargaining for the Spring and for our next CBA will begin in January.
However, as we inch closer to the end of the semester, the Spring Term is rearing its ugly head. Class schedules are being assigned, with more and more in person classes and requirements to return to campus. But numbers and predictions are getting worse and accommodations to remain remote for many faculty are being denied or not considered at all. Other institutions have worked with their faculty to find the best accommodations for those that have medical concerns or do not feel safe returning to class or in person teaching. Although PSCFA’s efforts to negotiate with the administration have fallen short, there is still more we can do.
Yesterday, in a faculty wide meeting with UFF representatives, we’ set up plans to make our requests heard. Using a mass letter accommodation request campaign and press release airing issues and problems of the last few months, we hope to put pressure on the administration to rethink plans and requirements for the Spring and to include PSCFA in making decisions for returning to campus and in-classroom teaching. Things are moving quickly. We need to act now.
Here’s what you can do: Using this one or both of the form letters included below, write an accommodation request letter to make your case/s known for your health and safety concerns. Make your case why returning to campus and teaching face to face threatens your health, safety, or well-being. To help evaluate your concerns, use these documents from the CDC to evaluate your health and concerns. Medical: CDC Medical Conditions Evaluation Medical Concerns Form Letter When making a medical accommodation request, attach any documentation from the appropriate medical professional to strengthen your case
If you’d like to have a member of PSCFA or UFF work with you in writing your accommodation letter, you can contact us in a number of ways. We encourage you to contact us using your personal emails: PSCFA Contacts: StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com
Next, you’ll be submitting your accommodation request to the Human Resources Department on Monday, December 7th.
If submitting an accommodation request due to health issues: email it to HR with any documentation from a health care provider; then, forward a copy without the attached medical documentation to our UFF representatives and PSCFA. If submitting an accommodation request for a safe working environment, please copy (CC) our UFF representatives and PSCFA in your email: HRDept@pensacolastate.edu firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com
While it is likely that our requests will be denied or rejected, it is vital that we send these in. The larger voice of concern from not just PSCFA as an organization, but from individual membership, makes it clear that our heath and safety and that of our students are at risk in returning to campus and teaching face to face without the proper measures to ensure our protection and security. There is already strong backing from UFF and members of PSCFA who have already drafted accommodation requests. The larger volume of requests, backed up by a soon to be widely circulated press release, puts pressure on our administration to make better decisions for the Spring and moving forward and shows the public the massive amount of issues we’ve faced in making sure that the safety of students, faculty, and staff are intact. We need you now more than ever.
If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact us at StayingAlivePSC@gmail.com or on our website contact page.
As COVID cases surge in Escambia county, plans are still being made for the Spring Semester to include more face-to-face classes and have all staff and faculty return to campus. Fears and concerns about these developments are sharedacross the state.
And while these plans are being developed by PSC Administration, PSCFA has been asked for little to no input on the situation, despite repeated attempts to be included. The same, vague answers continue.
We are not alone in this situation. Other colleges and university have struggled with communication with their administrations. UFF is collecting this information has created a new survey to gather data concerning workplace safety since the pandemic began. They are looking for your COIVD Stories; “to put a human face to our public campaign to make sure campuses are safe for the community, including students, faculty, and staff.” If you have a story to share please take the time to fill out the survey or share it with us from our Contact Page.
What does this mean for PSC faculty? As UFF gathers data, PSCFA is planning a Zoom meeting on Wednesday, November 18th, at 2:00pm Central, linked here, to discuss the actions PSCFA and UFF will be taking in the coming weeks. We’re in the thick of it, but there are a lot of behind the scenes actions being taken and as they are implemented, you will be in the loop. Stay strong, stay safe, and we hope to see you on the 18th.