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Zooming Out: OSU boldly sends students back into classes

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Freshman Hannah Rath heard the horror stories. Her mother works as an ICU nurse in an Oklahoma Hospital, so she’s aware of the monumental magnitude of the coronavirus.

Back in class, literally, at Oklahoma State, Rath fears for the potential of this semester, a semester of forced in-person attendance.

“People in the OSU community are hurting, and the OSU administration will have failed us if they do not change the COVID guidelines for the spring of 2021,” Rath said.

Oklahoma State University has altered its attendance policies for this semester.

According to a document obtained by the O’Colly from Provost Gary. D. Sandefur, “For courses that are designed to be in-person, both students and faculty benefit from in-person instruction, therefore, we encourage students to attend classes whenever possible.”

OSU’s push for traditional learning was backed by the fact that, according to the document, “no instances of contact tracing for COVID-19 during the Fall mapped back to a classroom setting.”

Compared to other schools in Oklahoma and nationwide, OSU’s in-person attendance policies almost shape up as a test case. The University of Oklahoma is continuing its hybrid instruction format from the fall 2020 semester and has adopted a strict mask policy.

According to OU’s University Mandatory Masking Policy, “Bandanas, scarves, gaiters, buffs, and the like are not acceptable.”

OSU’s move back to the classroom is seen as highly controversial, especially by students. Some are miffed by the change, others embrace it.

“My dad has stage four melanoma, a cancer that he is actively fighting,” freshman Becky Gamino said. “Although my dad is not a student, the university fails to recognize that putting their own students in danger puts the whole Oklahoma State community at risk as well.”

That’s one side of the argument.

“I’ve never been an online person,” said Jace Stanley, a freshman studying aerospace and mechanical engineering. “I don’t like it. It’s way more complicated than learning should be. I like just being in class with the professor giving you the work and notes in person. If you need to talk to the professor, you could do it right after class.”

The effects of education amid the coronavirus extend beyond OSU.

According to the Texas Education Agency, the average student lost roughly 3.2 months of learning during school closures in March 2020.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has used data from students’ performances to advocate for in-person learning.

“These kids are struggling and it’s not their fault,” Stitt said. “They need to be in their classrooms, and they need to be with their teachers.”

In an email sent to  the O’Colly, OSU addressed the backlash.

“This semester the university is working to balance our commitment to student safety while acknowledging that face-to-face learning is ideal for student academic success,” Sandefur said. “We want to encourage in-person attendance whenever possible, but faculty members still have the authority and flexibility to adapt course delivery methods. If a student is concerned about in-person attendance, they should reach out to their professor to discuss options.”

Nobody knows how this move back to normalcy will work out. This semester could be a disaster or a major success. At some point, somebody has to make the first move. OSU is doing that.

“I think universities should maintain maximal flexibility in allowing distance learning during the pandemic,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at John Hopkins University who has been widely quoted by national media for his expertise related to the implications of the coronavirus.

“There will likely be students on any college campus that have high-risk conditions such as obesity and asthma that may choose to use remote learning. While it is true the classrooms can be and have been reconfigured to be much safer, it may take some time before in-person college learning resumes in a pre-pandemic fashion.”