Wednesday, August 5, 2020

GUEST COLUMN: Questions from a concerned Michigan State parent

July 14, 2020
The Sparty Statue on March 19, 2020
The Sparty Statue on March 19, 2020 —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Dear President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Office of the Provost, Office for Student Affairs, and The State News Editor-in-Chief: 

As parents of a second-year Spartan, we have been keeping up to date on published communication from various sources — email updates from MSU as well as MSU’s COVID-19 related websites, The State News, Facebook groups for “MSU Parent-Class of 2023,” ”MSU Parents & Families,” “Housing & Dining at MSU — Parents & Guardians.” We recognize and commend President Stanley and MSU leadership for the way they have managed this crisis in March with the decision to shift classes online, way ahead of many other universities of this size.  

We are assessing how MSU is preparing for the Fall semester. A lot of our questions and concerns have been addressed at a high level. We do have a few more questions that we have not seen being addressed and hoping that you are able to:

  1. Masks — We totally agree that wearing a mask is a requirement. How will the university enforce mask wearing and who will be responsible for enforcing it? For students who violate the policy, are there resources (e.g. mask ambassador roles to ensure adherence), and what are the disciplinary actions? A requirement to wear a mask is only as effective if there are consequences. Will the professors and teaching assistants also be required to wear masks while walking on campus, teaching and holding office hours?
  2. Contact Tracing — Will contact tracing be implemented? For example, if a student in my child’s in-person class or a student in their dorm floor/hall shows symptoms or is tested positive, will my child be alerted? If this happens in a classroom, will my child and all the students in that class need to self-isolate for 14 days and/or get immediately tested? Is the Olin Health Center equipped with a large inventory of COVID-19 testing kits?
  3. Classes — If my child needs to self-isolate for 14 days or gets tested positive for asymptomatic COVID-19 and cannot attend in-person classes, or is too sick to attend online classes, how is the university going to ensure that they does not miss out on lectures, assignments etc.?
  4. Testing — Will testing be readily available on campus on short notice and be free? What is the turnaround time for test results? This will dictate the length of time for self-isolation and contribute to the disruption academically. Test results in some states are taking 7-10 days.
  5. Social Distancing — How will social distancing be enforced on campus buses?
  6. Monitoring and Screening — As students move onto the East Lansing campus in the fall, how will the university monitor and manage students from states (i.e. Florida, Arizona, Texas and California) that have high COVID rates who could potentially be asymptomatic?
  7. Residential Housing — Our child is sharing a dorm room with another student. If their roommate shows symptoms, are they required to self-isolate or get tested within a reasonable time, and does my child need to be tested and self-isolate (i.e. stay in "self-isolation"  dorm room and not attend in-person or hybrid classes) until both the results are available?
  8. Residential Housing — Is the wearing of masks required when in a shared dorm room, hallways and common areas?
  9. Community bathrooms — They will be at Bailey Hall. What changes will be implemented in the community bathrooms to reduce the risk of transmission, especially during peak periods? How will social distancing and capacity be monitored especially during those high traffic times? How frequently will surfaces be sanitized? The community bathrooms seem to be a very high-risk area. Are there any plans to reduce the number of students living on each floor for those with community bathrooms?

Parents are sending their children away from the safety of their homes. With MSU's 50,000+ student population, the campus becomes a super-spreader potential if COVID-19 penetrates groups of students who are naturally complacent. 

It is unconscionable and unacceptable if the administration lets their guard down on a virus profile that is still 100% unknown and unpredictable. We think it is reasonable to expect that MSU provides and implements clear processes, procedures and policies that reflect government-driven guidelines to help us make educated decisions for sending our children back to school. We are not naive and understand risk management. However, it is critically responsible for the administration to identify those (new) risks, publicize those risks to all and more importantly, allow us to make decisions based on shared risks. We look forward to your early response as there are upcoming deadlines. Thank you!

Yours truly,

Concerned Spartan Parent

Editor's note: The author requested anonymity to protect their child's identity.

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