Instructional FAQs for the Fall 2021 Semester

Please see the full Fall 2021 classroom guidance for faculty who may have a student test positive for COVID-19. As well as these resources:

Last, please read through our initial set of instructor FAQs for the fall semester and be sure to share these with graduate student instructors and teaching assistants.

COVID-19 related instructor and student communication:

No. Faculty and TAs do not have a health provider relationship with the student. The faculty member or TA should not alert the class, because that would be a violation of FERPA in the same way that divulging information about disability accommodations or grades is not allowed. UHS will determine who else needs to be notified of a positive case.

The instructor should tell the student to follow this guidance on reporting their positive test to enable contact tracing. Either the instructor or TA can report this to Behavioral Concerns and COVID Advice Line (BCCAL). BCCAL will notify University Health Services (UHS). This information will then be part of the student’s medical record where HIPAA applies.

Yes. The university has determined that all students coming to campus for the fall semester must receive a viral test (antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test such as PCR).

If a student refuses to take a COVID test we are asking that you share the following with them:

We are asking that you take a COVID-19 test to help keep you and your fellow Longhorns safe, to enable us to learn and be together as we did before COVID-19. Failure to test may contribute to the further spread of COVID-19 and overload our already strained healthcare system, and could usher in a semester with sick students, some of whom could require hospitalization. Additionally, all students complying will help minimize the introduction of new cases to our campus community, reducing the likelihood of disruption from missing class due to illness or exposure or the implementation of further restrictions.

Faculty may also contact Behavioral Concerns and COVID Advice Line (BCCAL) for additional guidance.

For students living in university-owned housing: Share the following link with your students which should answer many of their questions. If they have other questions, they should reach out to questions@uhs.utexas.edu.

For all other students: Share the following link with your students which should answer many of their questions. If they have other questions, they should reach out to testing@uhs.utexas.edu.

Share this link with students who ask for guidance. There are a number of useful links within that webpage that detail steps to follow. Also encourage them to review this exposure action chart on what to do for the following scenarios: no symptoms with not-close-contact exposure, no symptoms with close-contact exposure, and COVID-19 symptoms. Instructors can also contact Behavioral Concerns and COVID Advice Line (BCCAL) for additional information and assistance.

If a student tests positive, they should isolate at home. Ask them to contact the Behavior Concerns and COVID-19 Advice Lin (BCCAL) to report their positive result. BCCAL can also assist them with isolation options, class absence notification or other support. Instructors can also share this guidance on ending self-isolation and returning to regular activities after COVID-19 infection.

  • University’s mask guidance
    Make sure your recommended protective face mask covers your nose and mouth.
  • Proactive Community Testing
    Will be available throughout the semester and remains an important part of the university’s efforts to protect our community. Tests are fast and free.
  • Visit protect.utexas.edu for all university COVID-19 updates and information.

This action chart details steps to take for whom (vaccinated versus not, exposed versus not, etc.), for what (exposed with or without close contact, etc.) and for how long.

See the list of COVID-19 symptoms here. If a faculty member thinks they have symptoms of COVID-19 or they have a positive test, they should report their test result to the Occupational Health Program either by phone: 512-471-4647 or email healthpoint.ohp@austin.utexas.edu. Please review this guidance for additional information.

The faculty member should report their test result to the Occupational Health Program (via 512-471-4647 or healthpoint.ohp@austin.utexas.edu) and arrange to teach their course remotely (e.g., over Zoom). If they have a TA able to work on campus, the TA could lead in-person class meetings and connections to the instructor on Zoom.

If you test positive but are asymptomatic, you must self-isolate. If you continue to have no symptoms, you can end self-isolation 10 days after you tested positive. If you develop symptoms, follow this guidance for Testing, Quarantine or Isolation (see the third column to the right).

Regardless of vaccine status and COVID-19 test result (positive or negative), the faculty member should not leave their home. They should avoid others in their home to avoid infecting them. See the third column in the exposure action chart for directions. The faculty member should also schedule a COVID-19 test with UT Health Austin or private healthcare provider and be sure to report a positive test result to the Occupational Health Program either by phone: 512-471-4647 or email healthpoint.ohp@austin.utexas.edu.

If the COVID-19-positive faculty member feels well enough to teach, they can only do so remotely until cleared to return to on-campus work. However, if the symptoms make the faculty member feel too ill to teach, then as with any illness, the faculty member should arrange for a colleague to cover their teaching and other professional responsibilities and update their supervisor of their plans (e.g., department chair). The faculty member can only leave quarantine and self-isolation at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and at least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medications and symptoms have improved (where day zero is the date of the test or symptom onset).

It depends. Generally, faculty may not ask students to leave a class if they are coughing/sneezing/because of any perception of something related to a disability as this could be a violation of the law to treat someone differently because of an actual or perceived disability (under the ADA, even a temporary condition could be a disability).  Because it is possible that a person has a disability that includes a condition that is similar to a COVID-19 symptom, great care should be exercised in determining whether to ask a student to leave the class room on the basis of what appears to be a COVID-19 symptom.  The greatest risk of denying someone access to the classroom because of their disability exists early in the semester when a faculty member does not know what is normal for their students and could mistake a condition as a COVID-19 symptom. For example, faculty would not want to kick a student out of class for coughing from their asthma, COPD, GERD, or Tourettes with a coughing tic–all of these disabilities have the potential to manifest as a COVID-19 symptom.

The following protocol would allow a faculty member to ask a student to leave the class based on COVID-19 symptoms:

Faculty should note in their syllabus that because COVID-19 spreads primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs, they ask students to remain home until any newly developed COVID-19 symptoms subside.  They should set out the process for students to notify the faculty member of their absence and to access class materials that will be missed from remaining home.  They should also note that if a student comes to class with symptoms of COVID-19, they will privately ask the student if these are new symptoms for the student or normal for them.  If these are new symptoms, they will direct the student to leave class based on their COVID-19 concern. It is important the faculty member does not ask probing questions regarding underlying health conditions or about the existence of disabilities generally.  Nor should a faculty member call out a student for their condition/symptoms in front of other students.

They should let students know that if a student has a  disability that includes a condition that is also a COVID-19 symptom, and they would prefer not to be asked about it, as described above, the student has the option of notifying the faculty member that they will be seeking a reasonable accommodation to remain in class despite the condition that appears as a COVID-19 symptom.  Faculty should provide information to any such students regarding how to make such an accommodation request.  Additionally, faculty should not treat masked and unmasked students differently regarding requests to leave class based on COVID-19 symptoms.

Importantly, this protocol should not be used outside of the current health situation.

All faculty continue to be required to use the course instructor survey (CIS) to evaluate students’ perceptions of faculty instruction for each organized course. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated uncertainty, stress and anxiety as well as the resulting complications around course delivery is expected to impact instructors’ teaching and students’ learning and may therefore alter course and instructor evaluation results. However, it is still critical that we capture our students’ experiences. Thus, course instructor surveys will be disseminated and results gathered at the end of this 2021 fall semester. As with any teaching hurdles, it is imperative that faculty members continue to engage the help of peers and instructional staff many of whom are skilled in online and remote teaching and learning. And all faculty are strongly encouraged to document the challenges that they encounter this semester (as with any semester’s teaching) and to reflect on how they worked to find solutions (matching the advice that we would give for any scenarios in which teaching and student learning seem negatively impacted). The FIC and LAITS offer a number of instructional resources as do many of the College and Schools’ teaching and learning centers that will assist you as you prepare to move to and engage in distance instruction.

Social distancing, vaccinations and masking as well as quarantining when necessary given exposure to COVID offer the optimal ways to prevent transmission of the virus. All UT buildings meet or exceed code standards (according to codes set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers). UT Facilities has also worked to ensure all systems are in good working order and have maximized the amount of ventilation air above code requirements while still maintaining indoor temperature and relative humidity setpoints.

Each dean is implementing a process for a temporary change in course modality for a limited number of courses and faculty. Faculty should reach out to their supervisor to find out their College/School’s process.

The faculty member should contact their departmental supervisor and HR specialist to discuss the following options. All UT employees, including non-benefits eligible and student employees, are eligible for up to two weeks (80 hours for full-time; prorated for part-time) of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) through September 30, 2021. EPSL is appropriate to use if you are unable to work either on campus or remotely because you:

  1. Are subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. Are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. Are caring for an individual subject to a quarantine or isolation order as described in (1), or has been advised to self-isolate as described in (2);
  5. Are caring for your child(ren) whose school or place of care is closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 related reasons; or
  6. Are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Other paid leave types such as paid sick time off and floating holidays are also available.

If the faculty member needs to partly or fully supervise the dependent at home (e.g., child who is 12 years old or younger, etc.) and the faculty member is able to work remotely then they should work with their supervisor (department chair or dean in a non-departmentalized college/school) to arrange temporarily moving their course(s) online if possible for the duration of the quarantine order. If a course cannot be taught remotely (e.g., experiential learning class or lab, etc.), then the faculty member should work with their supervisor to find a flexible work arrangement that allows instruction to continue even if the faculty member is temporarily working remotely. If no resolution can be found then the faculty member is eligible for up to two weeks (80 hours for full-time; prorated for part-time) of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) through September 30, 2021.

Faculty or any academic UT employees should reach out to their College / School’s business officer with any requests for masks. A list of College / School Chief Business Officers can be found here.

Masking in Classrooms:

No. Instructors may not require individuals to wear a mask.  Instructors should not make direct requests to individuals in a classroom or use class time for these discussions, because the discussion could be viewed as coercive. Because of the power differential between an instructor and student, a request by the instructor to wear a mask is likely to be perceived as a requirement. That being said, instructors may include a request—in the syllabus or in a group email to all students in the class—that students wear a mask while also acknowledging individuals’ right to choose to do otherwise (i.e., not to wear a mask) without academic consequence.

No. The instructor should follow university policy for the modality used for their course. At this time, courses may be taught with reduced density for the first three weeks offering students at least one in-person meeting per class and per week.  After the first three weeks, we hope to return to in-person classes, with very limited exceptions. University leadership may make changes as the semester progresses and is actively monitoring the health situation.

Yes. If an instructor requires distancing, it should be implemented uniformly without regard to whether another person is wearing a mask.

If the behavior is disrupting the class, an instructor may, after providing a reminder/warning to the student to keep an appropriate distance, refer a student who intentionally fails to maintain the required distance to student conduct for the disruption.

Deans have the authority to approve temporary course modality changes during the first three weeks of the semester.  Deans will send instructions directly to instructors regarding the process to submit a temporary teaching modality change request.

If an instructor lives with any household members who have medical condition(s) that make the resident household member at risk for severe disease from COVID-19 then the instructor can apply for a flexible teaching modality arrangement for the entire fall semester.

Incentives:

Yes, although with some limitations, namely:

  • Positive incentives/rewards are permissible while negative consequences/ punishments are not.
  • Instructors can only offer non-academic incentives of a de minimis value (less than $50) per reward during a given semester.
  • Incentives can NOT be paid for with university/State funds.
  • Incentives cannot result in academic benefits to any student.
  • Incentives cannot result in heightened stakes creating coercion.
  • Incentives should be delivered outside of the classroom.
  • Incentives cannot result in differential treatment in the classroom between those that mask and those that do not.
  • The following examples ARE permissible and comply with the guidance on incentives:
    • g., The instructor offers that everyone who wears a mask for two weeks of their class can stop by the courtyard to pick up a gift certificate for a free item from a nearby bakery..
    • g., The instructor offers that if the class maintains 85% masking by attendees for the next two weeks, then after the following Thursday’s class period, individually wrapped treats from a certain bakery can be picked up by every student in the courtyard (i.e., not the classroom) where all can still socially distance.
  • Examples of incentives that would NOT be permissible due to violating at least one of the criteria listed above include:
    • g., An instructor directs class that if all students do not mask, then the class will be taught online. (negative consequence, academic impact and heightened stakes creating coercion).
    • g., An instructor directs that any students failing to mask will not be allowed a partner on the team project. (negative consequence, academic impact, heightened stakes creating coercion).
    • g., An instructor offers that there will be no final in the class if everyone wears a mask. (Academic impact/benefit and heightened stakes creating coercion).
    • g., An instructor offers those who mask during each class meeting for the semester a 5-point increase in their final grade. (Academic impact/benefit and heightened stakes creating coercion).
  • If raffle-style incentives are used for masking, organizers should not collect or maintain any protected health information (e.g., vaccine records, list of vaccinated applicants).

Instructors and departments may not offer incentives to encourage vaccination. Because of the privacy risk involved in an incentive related to someone’s protected health information, incentives to encourage vaccination will be implemented only at the university or college or school level. University leadership is working on various incentives to encourage vaccinations. The University does not expect schools and colleges to have their own incentives for vaccinations, but if one is contemplating such a program, the College / School must work with the Provost to gain approval.

Mask-wearing can be encouraged by instructors in the syllabus for a course. The encouragement must not carry any coercive connotations. There are different ways in which encouragement can appropriately be expressed. The following language is approved:

“University policy is to follow CDC guidance. So, until the CDC guidance suggests differently, wearing a mask is strongly encouraged in this course.  You will not be penalized in any way for not doing so. Please bear in mind, however, that the interests protected by masking are not just your own. Masking to prevent transmission is very important for the health of our greater community. It may be important for others in the room in ways that you do not know or appreciate. For all of these reasons, I urge you to do so.”

Instructors’ Offices:

No. Instructors may not require masks inside UT buildings as it is a direct violation of the Executive Order prohibiting mask mandates. Instructors may hang a sign on their office door indicating that they recommend masks be worn. Instructors may also decline to allow all visitors into their office. Alternatively, instructors may reserve a larger space (e.g., a conference room) that permits distancing for their in-person meetings or choose to only hold these meetings outdoors.  However, they may not treat masked and unmasked colleagues and students differently. For example, if you will hold office hours in-person, then all students must be able to attend with or without masks. It is not be permissible to only offer in-person meetings to those who mask and to require others to meet via Zoom. However, an instructor may take steps to socially distance during in-person meetings including moving in-person meetings with an unmasked person to a different location to permit distancing.

Internships for which vaccinations are required:

There is no problem with students having to comply with outside entities’ requirements given the entity has the authority to require a vaccine (e.g., health care providers) and/or mask.

Program directors and administration should help facilitate vaccine exemptions with outside entities for students or staff that need a medical or religious accommodation.

  • To the extent that a placement in one of these facilities is necessary for a degree plan, the program director and administration should work to help make other opportunities available to those who do not wish to/cannot get the vaccine. After attempting, if this is not possible, they should notify students as soon as possible.
  • For outside entities and facilities that require a vaccine and/or masking, the instructor should include a statement in the syllabus. Something along the following lines:

“This course includes work with outside facilities that have vaccination requirements, including the COVID-19 vaccine, under their authority in the Texas Health and Safety Code. Compliance with their vaccination requirements is necessary to enter the facility and work with clients. Students registering for this course are responsible for obtaining the necessary vaccines as prerequisites to participation. Failure to meet the health care facility’s vaccination requirements may prevent the student from completing required clinical tasks and result in no credit for the course. In very limited circumstances, students may seek a medical or religious exemption from the vaccination requirement.”

Internships for which travel is needed:

No. If all students are traveling together in a university owned or rented vehicle(s), then the instructor is acting as part of a governmental entity and cannot require the students to wear masks. If students will ride separately, or in small groups together to the location, the individual car owners can indicate what mask-wearing behavior they require for classmates to ride with them.

Surveys:

Yes. An instructor may inquire about the class members’ mask-wearing preferences in a survey as long as the instructor makes clear to the students that instructors cannot legally and thus will not treat students differently based on their individual responses. In addition, instructors will have to make it clear in the survey that students are free to do as they like in terms of mask-wearing in their class on any given day: i.e., a survey response does not “commit” the student nor reflect a “promise” by the student to wear a mask. Responses to the survey can be used to help in creating seating charts, forming small groups, etc., as long as those arrangements do not create a benefit/advantage to students that mask versus those who do not while keeping in mind, again, that a survey response is not binding. It is possible that instructors are unable to implement these things in a way that is neutral and without benefit to students masking.  In those scenarios, it may not be the basis for these decisions.