Online classes still limited as semester begins with high COVID rates

Students and faculty struggle with restricted online class availability as the Omicron variant runs rampant in Florida


Tim Murphy

FAU Boca Raton campus Administration Building.

Caroline Little, Staff Writer

The university announced its plan to limit its remote learning program, also known as “HyFlex,” on Nov. 23 in an email Provost Bret Danilowicz sent out to faculty and students alike.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is transmitted more easily than previous mutations of the virus, regardless of vaccination status. However, fully vaccinated individuals remain less likely to experience severe symptoms or hospitalization if infected.

Amanda Vincente, a Studio Art major, believes that the remote option should be available to those that need it.

“It is hard not to have online classes during the pandemic,” said Vincente, “some students may be immunocompromised and could get severely ill if they contracted COVID-19.”

 According to the Florida Department of Health, 430,297 new cases of COVID-19 were reported between Jan. 7 and Jan. 13.

 As of Jan. 19, 81.4% of active COVID-19 cases exist on the Boca Raton campus. 

Current FAU guidance states that “All students, faculty and staff, regardless of vaccination status, are expected to wear face coverings while indoors,” and the university is instructing students who feel sick to stay home.

In the Nov. 23 email, Danilowicz cited poor student attendance and participation as one of the reasons for limiting access to online learning.

 Assistant Professor of Ceramics Thomas Stollar says he has not experienced a decline  in student interaction.

 “I really liked [combination] in-person online classes, and now that we are [face to face], I think having [face to face] with remote option days is a really good idea,” said Stollar.

An email sent to the University Press on Jan. 19 from the provost’s office stated:

 “Fully online and hybrid options are available if the academic department has decided those formats are appropriate for the discipline, course topic, and instructor.” 

Joshua Glanzer, Associate Vice President of Media Relations and Public Affairs, did not elaborate on the contents of the email.

Hybrid classes are listed as “In-Person w/ Live Remote Option” in the course schedule. Still, the availability of these courses varies between departments.

As a public university, FAU follows guidelines from the state Board of Governors. According to the provost’s office, online learning restrictions are in-line with their recommendations.

Associate Professor of Art History, Emily Fenichel, feels that the online options should be more accessible.

 “Palm Beach Atlantic offered HyFlex to students for the first few weeks of classes. The University of Miami is going fully online for the month of January,” Fenichel said. “We should be asking why our administration and the administrations of other public institutions of higher learning are unwilling or unable to similarly protect their students and staff.”

The email also cited concerns about the caliber of HyFlex courses, stating “High-quality remote instruction takes considerable time to plan…” before explaining that remote options would only be made available if they were pre-arranged by the different departments.

“Trying to cater to both in-person and Zoom students at the same time is difficult,” says Fenichel “Nevertheless, I think many professors, including myself, would be willing to do this in order to help our students feel safe.”

The university currently has no plans to bring back the presence of remote classes to the extent seen in the fall semester, but has made allowances for faculty to record classes that can be shared with quarantined students, along with other accommodations listed in the email. 

Caroline Little is a staff writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories email her at [email protected]