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DSU calls on UCLA to offer more COVID-19 accommodations, clarity for students

The Disabled Student Union created a petition to urge UCLA to offer more hybrid learning options for students concerned about the spread of COVID-19 on campus. (Esther Li/Daily Bruin staff)

By Sydney Kovach

Sept. 30, 2021 1:14 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 4 at 12:09 a.m.

The Disabled Student Union is urging UCLA to offer more hybrid learning options for students concerned about the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

The DSU created a petition to encourage UCLA to provide more hybrid and remote instruction for students and faculty members who feel unsafe on campus because of COVID-19. DSU leaders and student government officials said the lack of hybrid learning options puts all students at risk of contracting COVID-19.

In the petition, the DSU asked that the university livestream all in-person lectures, eliminate in-person attendance requirements, record classes for students with attendance accommodations and those who test positive for COVID-19 and approve all faculty requests to teach remotely.

In the petition, which has received more than 22,900 signatures as of Wednesday, the DSU said the university has the necessary infrastructure to offer hybrid and remote instruction options for all courses.

Around 20% of fall undergraduate courses are entirely virtual, according to an emailed statement to the DSU from Vice Chancellor Michael Beck and Megan McEvoy, co-chairs of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Task Force. However, in response to Beck and McEvoy, the DSU said some students’ requirements for graduation are currently only offered in person and that the number of online courses is not distributed equally across all departments.

“(I am) advocating for hybrid learning options for not only disabled or immunocompromised students but also any students that might feel unsafe going into a classroom with hundreds of students,” said Quinn O’Connor, co-founder of DSU. “This isn’t just a disability issue at this point. Anyone can get COVID-19.”

In Beck and McEvoy’s emailed statement to DSU, the administrators added that the Exposure Management Team will provide students who have been on an extended absence because of exposure to COVID-19 or illness with letters that identify when they are cleared to return to class. Students can use these letters to request academic flexibility from their professors.

The faculty and the education working group of the CRRTF determined that it is not possible to teach all classes in person and remotely, according to Beck and McEvoy’s emailed statement to DSU. The CRRTF said some classrooms are not equipped with broadcast capabilities, and professors may face challenges in responding to students online and in person simultaneously.

In response, DSU proposed that professors start a Zoom meeting at the beginning of class, share their screen and use the classroom’s projector to ensure that both in-person and online students can access course materials. For classrooms that have chalkboards or whiteboards, DSU suggested that professors set up a webcam facing the board, similar to BruinCast.

The petition also calls on the university to guarantee that recordings and livestreams are equipped with closed captioning that complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

All lectures uploaded to CCLE can be auto-captioned by Kaltura, a program embedded in CCLE, according to Beck and McEvoy’s emailed statement to DSU. However, DSU responded to their email saying that auto-captioning on CCLE is inaccurate, especially when transcribing non-Anglophonic accents.

The Academic Senate also released guidance for instructors to follow when working with students with absences related to COVID-19.

However, professors may choose not to implement the Academic Senate’s suggestions correctly because they are not mandates, DSU said in response to Beck and McEvoy’s emailed statement. DSU added that instructors may implicitly encourage students to attend classes in person when sick, which could endanger their classmates.

“There is a clear disconnect between administration and students regarding COVID-19 protocol and communication,” said Jane Ni, the Undergraduate Students Association Council Facilities commissioner, in an emailed statement to UCLA administrators.

Students who want pandemic-related accommodations should reach out to the Center for Accessible Education, said Beck and McEvoy in an emailed statement to DSU.

However, DSU’s response said the CAE is currently understaffed and not equipped to fulfill the current needs of students with disabilities and will be overwhelmed if it needs to accommodate additional students with COVID-19-related requests.

The CAE was unaware that it would be responsible for coordinating accommodations for students who test positive for COVID-19, according to an emailed statement from Norma Kehdi, director of the CAE, to Ni.

“This information is not consistent with what CAE has been planning, nor the messaging that has been provided to instructors,” Kehdi said.

The Academic Senate will be making decisions about students’ accommodations and academic flexibility recommendations throughout the fall quarter, said Chancellor Gene Block during a meeting with the Daily Bruin Editorial Board.

Student government leaders said they are glad more students will be involved in creating and implementing the university’s COVID-19 policies.

“These decisions should always be made by a group of people,” Ni said. “It’s so important to have a vast range of student input.”

Quint added that the university’s COVID-19 policies can have grave impacts on students.

“I feel very frustrated with (UCLA’s) response,” said Angelina Quint, the USAC Academic Affairs commissioner. “Disabled students’ and immunocompromised students’ lives are literally on the line here.”

As of Thursday, the petition received over 20,000 signatures and UCLA administrators have agreed to meet with the DSU early next week, O’Connor said in an emailed statement.

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Sydney Kovach | Campus Politics editor
Kovach is the 2021-2022 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for The Stack. Kovach is a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Kovach is the 2021-2022 assistant News editor for the campus politics beat. She was previously a contributor for The Stack. Kovach is a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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