Novel coronavirus information

September 27, 2021

Resources and suggestions for autumn quarter preparation (Message to instructors, TAs and instructional support staff)

This message was sent to instructors, instructional support staff and teaching assistants across the University of Washington.

Dear Colleagues,

As we prepare to return to our campuses — and courses — for autumn quarter, we all have many questions, especially around teaching and learning. Last month’s message from President Cauce and Provost Richards addressed the health and safety measures we have in place as part of our return to in-person instruction and working. Those details are posted on, where you can read the most up-to-date information.

In this message today, we are highlighting several topics and resources related to teaching for instructors, teaching assistants and instructional support staff. Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to course development and delivery, we encourage instructors to consult with their department chairs or deans for department-specific advice on course development, distance learning policies and classroom safety guidelines.

We recognize and appreciate that we are all feeling heightened anxiety as we begin this autumn quarter. We both have been communicating with our peers in semester schools, across the state and country, and we are hearing, especially from West Coast schools, that they have experienced at most a handful of cases in which students have not followed COVID-related rules and guidance, including about masking. In addition, infections within the student populations have generally been lower than they were last year when classes were conducted online and before the delta variant. The combination of vaccines and masking is a powerful combination that offsets risk.

Nonetheless, it is critical that instructors inform students on the first day of class, and in the syllabus, how they will communicate any changes in teaching modality in case the instructor experiences COVID symptoms, is ill or needs to quarantine due to exposure. Let students know if you will communicate with them through Canvas, email or other means.

What are some options for instructors who must quarantine themselves, or care for a child or family member who has been exposed or infected?
Instructors who are primary caregivers may experience disruption to child care or schooling because of their child’s COVID-19 exposures in those settings. Whether quarantining themselves, or caring for someone else who is, instructors have several options. For example, an instructor may be able to teach from home via Zoom temporarily. An instructor may also ask a colleague or teaching assistant to take over the course for a short period of time. And the department may be able to access funds the provost has set aside for temporary instructors or additional TAs to teach while an instructor is out for a more extended period. Instructors should discuss the option they would like to implement with their department chair before proceeding. Instructors who anticipate that they may have to care for a child or a family member due to illness or exposure should discuss with their department chair or dean ahead of time how they plan to handle those situations.

What if a student in my class becomes infected?
No matter how careful we are, some members of our community will become infected with COVID-19 during the academic year. If you or a student in your class tests positive, Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) will contact you and begin its response protocols and guide you on what to do. In courses with moderate enrollments instructors may wish to implement assigned seating so that in case one of their students tests positive, “nearest neighbor” exposures in your classroom can be more precisely determined.

Although EH&S will provide advice in situations of potential classroom exposure, quarantining is not necessary for students and faculty who are vaccinated and not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Instructors know best how their classes are conducted and how much interaction or conversation they involve. Instructors are permitted to make decisions to temporarily move to online for class sessions in those situations where someone in the class is believed to have become infected. You should consult with your chair or dean if you believe this will be for longer than a week.

How should I accommodate students who can’t attend class because they are ill or quarantining? What about an international student who can’t attend class because they can’t get here or are isolating after they arrive?
As in years past, students will at times need to miss class due to illness or other special situations. We would ask that instructors work with students in those circumstances, as they did pre-pandemic. It is wise to plan in advance for how to handle more absences than usual, and avoid creating incentives for a student with symptoms or who is sick to come into class anyway. We are confident you will remain mindful of the compassion and flexibility that has characterized UW instructors’ pandemic response to date.

Instructors are not expected to create two versions (in-person and remote) of a course, but there are some steps instructors can take to make course information and material more accessible.

Do instructors need to wear a mask while lecturing?
University personnel verified to be fully vaccinated in accordance with the University’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy may temporarily remove their face coverings when formally presenting to or instructing a group or class in a large space from behind a podium or in a stage-like setting. Physical distance of at least six feet from others is required at all times while the face covering is removed.

What should instructors do if students refuse to wear a mask?
Masks are required inside all UW buildings and facilities — and that includes classrooms. We have posted a guide for how to handle situations where a student has forgotten a mask or refuses to wear one. Again, other West Coast schools have experienced only rare instances of this problem. As in any situation, instructors always have the option to ask a student to leave or to dismiss the class if someone refuses to follow this UW mandate.

In the rare case that a student attends class and refuses to wear a mask, instructors should contact the university’s student conduct office. Students who deliberately violate University public health policies and protocols, including the face covering policy, will be subject to disciplinary procedures up to emergency suspension and, if warranted, dismissal.

How has the UW addressed ventilation in classrooms?
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, UW Facilities has worked closely with EH&S to adjust building ventilation systems as public health guidelines have evolved. The University has purchased more than 2,000 air purifiers to install as needed in classrooms on all three campuses. Learn more about Facilities’ work on air quality and EH&S’ details on ventilation standards.

In addition, the COVID-19 Prevention in Learning Spaces guide has been updated and outlines responsibilities of instructors, students, instructional support staff and building coordinators, as well as cleaning protocols for classrooms and informal learning spaces.

Just as we were able to pivot to remote teaching in early 2020, we can shift back to in-person teaching now providing our students with the rich learning environment that characterizes universities like ours.

However, we continue to live in uncertain times and we know that there remains a small possibility that we may need to return to remote. Several scenarios could lead to a return to largely remote operations, including a major uptick in on-campus transmissions or positivity rates; greatly diminished capacity in our area hospitals; major disruptions in our K-12 schools or transportation systems; or the imposition of state or local restrictions, such as distancing requirements or “stay at home” orders. None of these scenarios are currently in play. As we have throughout the pandemic, we will be centrally monitoring the public health situation on our campuses and surrounding areas on an ongoing basis, and urge you to plan your courses with flexibility in mind.

Bit by bit, our campuses are coming back to life as faculty, staff and students return in preparation for autumn quarter. We understand the uncertainty and trepidation you may have, but we also feel the excitement and optimism building. Students are central to our community, and we welcome them back into community with us in support of their education.

Thank you for your continued flexibility in the classroom, and your dedication to teaching, learning and student success.

Mark A. Richards
Provost and Executive Vice President
Professor of Earth and Space Sciences

Philip J. Reid
Vice Provost for Academic and Student Affairs
Professor of Chemistry