Shift to remote learning met with pushback by some Queen’s students

This week, Queen’s University announced that it would transition to remote learning until at least March, due to concerns surrounding the new Omicron variant. However, the decision has caused distress in some students, particularly those fully vaccinated who want to attend in-person classes. 

A Queen’s student named Dante Caloia has now started a petition calling for Queen’s to allow fully vaccinated students the option to attend in-person classes in Winter 2022. The petition claims “that fully vaccinated students have done their part throughout the process of following COVID health and safety protocols, attending online classes, and limiting contact.”

“I’m proposing that Queen’s allows students who are fully vaccinated to choose between online or in-person classes for the winter semester. Yes, the new variant is spreading fast, but we are also set to receive third doses very soon. Why should our educational experience suffer due to the University’s poor decisions?” the petition states.  

Instead of moving classes online, the petition asks that classes be held in-person, but with smaller class sizes, strong mask policies, and rapid test availability for all students. 

Students’ concerns about returning to remote learning mirrored many of the concerns that were brought up in March of 2020, when Queen’s first shifted to remote learning. Some of these concerns included the impact on student mental health the cost of paying rent or residence while they are learning remotely.

One student told YGK News that they don’t want to “pay the same amount of money to Queen’s to sit in their bedrooms all day, watching pre-recorded lecture videos all day.”

Another concern shared by a student in the Fine Arts department is that the online delivery of lectures is not up to the mark, especially when it comes to the courses that require in-person learning

“We have small-size classes and are promised a personalized education. Now, I’m most likely going to be oil painting in my room, to the detriment of both my personal learning, my health, and my wallet when I inevitably get paint in my landlord’s floors or furniture,” Sermon Gill, 3rd year at Queen’s, 2nd year of the BFA program said. 

While Gill understands large lectures are not possible, she feels that small in-person, hands-on classes should be conducted in-person. 

In addition, the students who would be applying to graduate schools next year worry about their networking and learning opportunities as they would have less interaction with their professors and supervisors, making it challenging to get recommendations for their graduate applications. 

“My concern as a fourth-year student is not being able to create any genuine bonds with professors to feel comfortable asking them for a reference letter for Grad school,” a student said, who wishes to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.  

Students are also voicing their concerns about the transmission of the virus in vaccinated and non vaccinated people. 

A fourth-year Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering student at Queen’s said, “I’m not sure if there’s anything that can be done. I’m just so sick of this. My sister is an emergency doctor in the GTA, and she’s told me all covid cases at the hospital are non-vaccinated. I don’t see why students should be punished because members of society refuse to be vaccinated.” 

Some students also say that they are frustrated that the decision was made with little input from the community and lacked transparency.

“I’m frustrated and feel slightly ripped off. Despite this, a subset of the Queen’s administration and KFLA unilaterally made this decision with no evidence of due process or a set of balanced decision criteria. Per this way of operating, tuition rebates are justified and should be required of Queen’s, lest the school can do whatever they want without consequence.” 

According to the university, the decision was made through consultation with KFL&A Public Health.

“This is a proactive measure to support the health and safety of the Queen’s and Kingston communities and align with Ontario’s accelerated booster dose rollout for all individuals aged 18 and over,” said the statement released by Queen’s Safe Return on December 16. 

“Due to the prevalence of the Omicron variant in the Kingston region, KFL&A Public Health strongly encourages all students to get tested for COVID-19 before leaving the KFL&A region for the winter break,” the statement added. 

YGK News inquired with Queen’s University about concerns surrounding student rent and a request for tuition to be refunded. Queen’s University did not directly respond to the inquiry but said that they “recognize that the situation in Kingston and across the country is dynamic, and we will be updating the Queen’s community on any further changes to campus operations as soon as more information is available.”

Students will be receiving separate emails with details specific to their programs and ongoing changes in the coming days. 

Among the Ontario universities that have shifted to remote learning, Queen’s University has extended remote learning the longest. Earlier this week, the University of Toronto and Western University announced that they would shift to online learning until January 31st.

Medical experts say that with available data, the severity of the Omicron COVID-19 variant is still unclear, particularly for fully vaccinated individuals.

“The good news is that even two doses of vaccine probably protect us reasonably well, if not currently has very strong protection against severe illness. protects us reasonably well. We estimate right now that [two doses] are about 70% effective at reducing hospitalizations and a third dose would boost that up higher” Dr. Suzy Hota, from the University Health Network told CBC News on Friday.

The online petition has already gathered over 1,700 signatures in just one day.

Story by Zoha Khalid, YGK News, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter