'Absolutely the Right Call': UNL Teachers Allowed to Require Masks for Fall Classes
By Jackie Ourada , Morning Edition Host & Reporter Nebraska Public Media
Aug. 18, 2021, 1:18 p.m. ·
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The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has updated its COVID-19 health strategy ahead of the start of classes next week.
On Wednesday, Chancellor Ronnie Green announced teachers and instructors can require face coverings in their classrooms this semester. This could be a request made by the teachers themselves or students.
Political Science Professor Ari Kohen said the university, down to the departments, have been very supportive of welcoming a safe environment before students start the semester.
"It's absolutely the right call," Kohen said. "It's a huge relief for me, personally, and a lot of faculty as well I would guess, and I think it's good for the students. I think it will give them the confidence to come back."
The university has not said how it will enforce each mask requirement made by classrooms and what to do if a student chooses not to wear a mask.
Kohen said the mandate that will be in his syllabus will be clear but will also protect those students with concerns.
"It's really clear language that just says, 'an individual in your class has requested that masks be used,' and it doesn't get into anybody's details. It doesn't say who requested it or why, but as a result of that -- the College of Arts and Sciences, in my case -- has determined that masks must be worn in the classroom," Kohen said.
Kohen said he would feel safer if vaccination rates were higher in Nebraska, but getting the option to require a safety net such as masks is helpful in protecting everyone and allowing in-person classes.
"Teaching on Zoom was very hard [last school year]. It was not an enjoyable experience. I don't think students or faculty enjoyed it, and it took more work. It maybe didn't seem that way because we were at home, but it's much harder to take a class that you already know how to teach very effectively and then try to figure out how to do it when you have no real, meaningful interaction with students."
On top of allowing mask requirements in classrooms, Chancellor Green also said every student, faculty and staff member will need to take a saliva-based COVID-19 test, regardless of their vaccination status this week.
Weekly testing will be required in following weeks for students and staff who cannot provide proof of vaccination through the voluntary vaccination database.
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