Watch Now: In-Person Classes Still Worry Some Illinois State Students | local education

Three Illinois State University students involved in a petition to keep classes online discuss why on-campus changes should matter to the wider Bloomington-Normal community.

NORMAL — Illinois State University reiterated plans to resume in-person classes next week, but not all students are looking forward to being back in classrooms.

Junior communications major Jac Wills said the classes she was most concerned about had been moved online, but she was still worried about other people on campus. She fears this will put students in a position where they have to decide if they feel safe going to class.

“It’s not an easy decision, I don’t think it’s for anyone,” she said.

Wills and others have cwrote a letter asking the UIS to stay on remote learning until COVID cases were back to where they were in the fall, when, after an initial surge, the campus was often reporting single digits of new cases per day. By contrast, Jan. 4 this year saw the highest number of new cases so far this school year — 160 — as employees returned to campus.

The letter had more than 650 signatures as of midday Thursday, Wills said. The majority of them are from students, but faculty, staff and community members have also signed up.

The university one Friday COVID Update said he still intends to resume in-person instruction on Monday, although not all classes will be in-person. Students and employees can also receive KN95 masks, two per person, from the school free of charge. Distribution began on Tuesday.

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In December, ISU President Terri Goss Kinzy announced that the first two weeks of this semester would use distance learning, in response to rising COVID cases in the community.

University spokesman Eric Jome said the ISU believes the two weeks have helped by giving students and employees more time to get tested during the initial surge of cases as the variant omicron was spreading. The university also requires members of the campus community to test negative before returning to campus, or complete self-isolation if they test positive.

Illinois State University students Paul Jones, left, Keaton Eckstein, Max Marcionetti and Samantha Harmon study together at the State Farm Hall of Business after Illinois Governor JB Pritzker reinstated a indoor mask rule August 26, 2021. ISU resumes in-person classes on Monday after the start of the remote spring semester.


“We understand people’s concerns about certain things,” Jome said.

Still, the administration believes the procedures in place will allow for a safe return, he said.

But Wills isn’t sure just having the procedures is enough. During the fall semester, she worried about inconsistent application.

“We already have all these worries about how the person was unsafe before this peak,” she said.

As of Thursday, there had been 248 positive test cases on campus over the past seven days. This represents just under 15% of the total number of cases since the start of the 2021-22 school year. 58 new cases were reported on Thursday.

At the ISU, 97% of employees and 78% of students are vaccinated. The number of students includes 90% of students who live on campus.

Graduate student and teaching assistant Steven Lazaroff said conditions haven’t changed enough to make it safe to return to in-person classes. As one of the people circulating the letter, he is not surprised to see students taking the initiative to sign it.

“If we look at who’s been driving safe reopenings for COVID, it’s unions (…and) it’s mostly students,” he said.

As a graduate teaching assistant, he requested and received larger classrooms for the courses he will be teaching, to facilitate distancing. His preference would be for in-person teaching, he said, but not if he and his students don’t feel safe.

A safe reopening would make it clear that the priority is keeping students and employees safe during the pandemic, junior Doniven Hill-Bush said.

“We need to focus not on how it affects us individually, but how it affects (the wider community),” he said.

Students acknowledged that some may feel distance learning is not value for money. While they agree, they say the safety of the campus community must come first.

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“(Community safety) means more to me than enjoying classes more,” Wills said.

Hill-Bush is also concerned that the rush to return to in-person classes could end up meaning that ISU must return to remote learning later in the semester.

“We’re basically asking for the same thing to happen again,” he said.

At nearby Illinois Wesleyan University, students began the semester with in-person classes. His baseline testing when students returned to campus saw 100 new cases. 55 other cases have been identified since January 7, with active cases until 9 p.m. Thursday.

Lincoln College delayed the start of the spring semester by a week in response to the increase in cases. Traditional classes resumed in person this week. Lincoln had not yet released the COVID stats for this week from Friday afternoon.

Eureka College did not use distance learning or extend winter break. It has reported four positive cases on campus since the beginning of the semester, and 38 others off campus.

The ISU continues to closely monitor the situation and the numbers, Jome said. As administrators expected, there was a spike in cases when people started testing to return to campus, but they are hopeful that the implementation of these tests and the presence of people who test positive will help prevent further spread at the start of classes.

“If anything needs to change, we’ll communicate that in a timely manner,” Jome said.

Contact Connor Wood at (309) 820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood

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