The union that represents the University of Vermont faculty members grieved the school, saying administrators failed to alert instructors when students who interacted with them tested positive for Covid-19 .
United Academics, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, filed the grievance on Nov. 18. By negotiating with university officials, the union hopes to institute a contact tracing procedure that would notify faculty members when students around them test positive for Covid-19.
The grievance claimed that the alleged lack of contact tracing violates a section of the contract between faculty and administrators that ensures safe and healthy working conditions.
United Academics cited four cases where an instructor was not notified that a student he was working one-on-one with had been diagnosed with Covid-19, as well as other cases where professors did not been informed by administrators of several students in their positive class tests.
â€œInstructors only become aware of close contact exposure when they are informed directly by students in their classes who have tested positive,â€ the grievance said.
According to university policy, students are not alerted to possible exposure to Covid-19 if one of their classmates tests positive. Administrators say they adopted this policy because there was no evidence of transmission to the classroom during the 2020-21 school year.
But the union rejected that reasoning, pointing out that last year’s classes were socially distanced, while this year they are not.
In a statement, the university said its Covid-19 policies meet or exceed guidelines from state and federal health agencies.
â€œWe take compliance and the health and safety of our employees very seriously,â€ said Joel Seligman, school communications director, in an email.
Seligman said the university has invited union leaders to “share information with the university on any situations they are aware of where they believe COVID-19 procedures have not been properly followed” and do not had not received a response. But the grievance asserts that the university’s policies themselves are inadequate.
Most of the cases described in the grievance occurred when a faculty member was meeting or instructing a student one-on-one. While these types of interactions pose a greater risk of transmitting Covid-19, they are a necessary aspect of teaching, said United Academics President Eleanor Miller.
â€œIt’s hard to teach someone how to draw blood when you’re 6 feet away,â€ said Miller, professor of sociology.
Since the situations presented in the complaint occurred indoors, school policy states that everyone involved should have worn masks. The university reports that 100% of the university’s students are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and recently demanded that all professors and staff be vaccinated as well.
For people vaccinated without symptoms of Covid-19, quarantine is not necessary after possible exposure, according to guidelines from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the agency recommends getting tested. and wear a mask inside for two weeks afterwards.
Miller said that alerting professors to the infection of a student who was near them shouldn’t be the job of the student himself.
Last year, teachers received a notice from administration when a student could not attend class for several days, Miller said. This was interpreted by many instructors as an indication that the student had Covid-19, and indeed became a contact tracing tool for faculty.
This year, however, that system is not in place, Miller said, leaving some faculty concerned that they may unknowingly be able to bring the virus home.
“The University must recognize that faculty may have unvaccinated children or elderly immunocompromised parents and immediate family members who are at increased risk and / or may not be able to be vaccinated,” the grievance.
The filing of the grievance now triggers a meeting between union representatives and designated members of the provost’s office, said Katlyn Morris, executive director of United Academics.
If the two parties cannot resolve their differences at that meeting, then the administration is expected to file a written response to the grievance, Morris said. After that, the union can take the dispute to the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
But union leaders hope the administration will step in before it reaches that point and respond to their demands, which also include expanding the availability of Covid-19 tests and giving instructors more flexibility to organize distance learning courses.
“We need a clear procedure (for contact tracing) with the professors, which we don’t have,” Miller said.
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