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UF’s Planned Return To In-Person Classes At Pre-Pandemic Numbers Causes Mixed Reactions

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Normally crowded areas of the UF campus like Turlington Plaza have been anything but this fall. UF announced it will be offering a similar number of in-person classes for the spring 2021 semester as it did in spring 2020

There are a lot of students following safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are also a lot that are not, says Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola.

The University of Florida announced at the end of October that it will be increasing in-person class offerings to pre-pandemic numbers.

The announcement has brought mixed reactions about next semester among those affiliated with the university as well as in Gainesville as a whole.

One part of the response: Graduate Assistants United, United Faculty of Florida, UF Workers for Safe Reopening and Young Democratic Socialists of Gainesville organized a Nov. 1 protest.

Gainesville City Commissioner David Arreola said, “I disagree with that policy completely. It seems very ill-advised,” regarding UF holding in-person classes in spring.

UF students and faculty are a huge part of the city, Arreola said, and they matter a lot.

There are a lot of students following safety precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there are also a lot that are not, he said. Since UF is such a large school, this could mean not just a few students are not following safety precautions, but thousands, he said.

“Up until now, classroom coronavirus transmission has not been a problem so why would they invite more danger?” Arreola said.

Not only has there been a protest, but there has also been a petitioncreated to try to prevent UF from holding in-person classes in the spring: “The undersigned faculty, students, and staff at the University of Florida reject the recent policy announcement of a move to partial face-to-face teaching for the 2021 spring semester.”

As of Nov. 10, the petition has already reached more than 3,300 signatures.

The petition proposed an alternative: “We support continuing to teach remotely next semester, thus fulfilling all of our obligations with proper regard for the safety of the university community.”

The UF faculty and staff who sign recognize that not having in-person classes is not the best, but feel it is necessary to keep people safe at this time, according to the petition.

Sean Trainor, a member of United Faculty of Florida and lecturer in the UF Warrington College of Business, said, “It is beyond infuriating that my employer wants to make spring 2021 classes more dangerous, more inconvenien, and less effective for no benefit whatsoever.”

In preparation for the spring semester, the university’s announcement said “UF classrooms are being enhanced with HyFlex technologies like additional screens, cameras, digital whiteboards and microphones to create a more engaging classroom environment for students both in the classroom and at a distance.”

But Trainor doesn’t think HyFlex will be an improvement.

“HyFlex is more dangerous than remote instruction, it is more expensive, it is awkward for students and instructors alike and it produces far worse learning outcomes," Trainor said. "It is pedagogical theater, plain and simple. I’m speaking from experience here. I’m currently teaching a HyFlex course. In this course, I teach brilliant, tech-savvy graduate students. I have amazing institutional support. I’ve got all of the PPE and classroom tech I could possibly ask for. And it still sucks.”

Even though some people feel uncomfortable with UF in-person classes for the spring, Ken Garcia with UF Health Communications said, “We have seen no evidence of transmission in classrooms or labs to date. Students, faculty and staff should continue to take necessary steps to stay healthy. This includes wearing a mask, washing hands and physical distancing.”

For some students who have been previously uncomfortable with returning to campus, UF requiring certain safety precautions, such as masks and social distancing, has made them more at ease.

Delaney Kristofek, a UF student, said, “I really do like that class sizes will be smaller, and students will have to wear masks and be socially distant. While I stayed home this semester, I want to return in spring.”

There are also some students who are excited about the return of in-person classes because they are eager to get back into a classroom setting.

“I am excited,” Avery Searcy, another UF student said. “I like to be able to socialize and meet my classmates because I study better with other people when we can build off of each other’s knowledge. And even though I am at risk, COVID is starting to put my life on hold, and I think that we need to integrate safe ways to attend class in person.”

UF students can begin registering for their spring classes on Nov. 16.