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LSU, UL System consider ways to accommodate staff concerned about returning to in-person classes

File photo of the Memorial Tower on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La.
File photo of the Memorial Tower on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La.(WAFB)
Updated: Apr. 21, 2021 at 3:55 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. - After announcing this week that they will not require students to get COVID-19 vaccines, the presidents of LSU and the University of Louisiana System said Wednesday that they are reviewing how to accommodate faculty members who feel they might be at risk in returning to in-person classes this fall.

Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the UL system, said the nine universities in his system will assess requests by faculty members to teach online on a case-by-case basis assuming that the vaccines are as effective as expected and depending on public health conditions at the time.

Henderson said administrators will consider age, medical conditions and family health concerns, along with the latest public health guidance, in making the decisions.

“Widespread vaccination is just recently underway,” he said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and other researchers “are collecting copious amounts of data that will lead to much more informed decision-making over the coming weeks.”

But if the pandemic worsens, he said, “we will adapt. Ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff are paramount,” he said.

“We will err on the side of health and safety,” he added.

LSU Interim President Tom Galligan said his university has not decided whether it would require unvaccinated students to wear masks to class or tell professors how many unvaccinated students were in their classes.

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Henderson said the UL System does not plan to make such lists. “The idea of keeping and sharing a list of unvaccinated students for masking is logistically impractical and likely legally problematic,” he said.

“The vaccine is the protection for the faculty members and students,” Henderson said. “If the vaccine is determined to be insufficient protection for the vaccinated, everyone will wear masks. If the environment is still not safe, based on public health guidance, we will go back to widespread accommodations.”

Henderson said he had discussed the options for faculty exemptions with the presidents of the universities in his system. The nine schools together have nearly 92,000 students.

Two LSU professors on Tuesday asked LSU’s Faculty Senate to call on the university to require the 34,000 students in Baton Rouge to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, and the Senate will discuss the matter Thursday.

Mandi Lopez, the Faculty Senate president, said it can make recommendations about policies that affect LSU’s faculty and students.

But, she noted, “implementation, including vaccination exemptions, would be the purview of the administration within parameters set by state and federal law.”

Henderson and Galligan said that their universities are considering faculty concerns about ventilation and distancing protocols for classrooms in the fall.

“Absolutely,” Henderson said. “Vaccines are only part of the solution. Environmental factors also must be addressed.”

He said the schools in his system have done extensive work on heating and air-conditioning systems, though there is more to be done.

“The distancing protocols and all other CDC recommendations will be followed, as they have since the beginning of the pandemic,” Henderson said.

Some LSU professors also are raising questions about fall schedules suggesting there will be too many students in some classrooms to meet the six-foot distancing requirements that have been the norm through most of the pandemic. Some scientists say that three feet may be adequate in if the virus is brought under better control.

Galligan said LSU believes its ventilation systems will be fine. But depending on CDC guidelines, he said, “We will be relaxing physical distance requirements as allowed.”

The UL system consists of nine public universities in Louisiana: University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Grambling State University in Grambling, University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, University of Louisiana at Monroe, Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux and McNeese State University in Lake Charles.

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