As students begin to return to post-secondary institutions across Ontario, a number of Ryerson University students and staff have written open letters calling for an online learning option as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
“With merely two months left in this semester when the school plans to reopen, it is worthless to put students through this much work … I plead to Ryerson University to stay online for the remainder of Winter Semester and make more informed and data-based decisions in the future,” wrote mechanical engineering student Jwalit Bharwani.
In an interview with Global News, Bharwani recalled falling ill with COVID-19 last year, but being able to complete his work virtually from home.
“I had the privilege of online school … I had access to all the information on my computer. Now, if I fall sick, the professors are not recording lectures, the labs are completely in-person, so if I miss even five days of school, which is the CDC guideline, that’s a week’s worth of lectures gone,” he said.
Ryerson university began a gradual return to campus on Jan. 31, with a full return expected by Feb. 28, 2022. “The return to in-person learning will be program and faculty-specific,” according to its website.
A petition circulating online, signed by more than 11-thousand people, is also calling for an online option for students.
“Not everyone will have the ability to return in person, and (the) university is doing their students a great disservice by stripping away the choice to continue online on such short notice. This petition will serve as a voice and a way to help students worldwide,” noted the petition.
Faculty from Ryerson’s School of Occupational and Public Health penned an open letter to the university calling for smaller class sizes, more information about ventilation to be made available and ongoing air quality monitoring.
“Just a lot of concern about the safety, not a lot of confidence in terms of measures being put in place to ensure student safety and so we really felt that being … in the School of Public Health, we had a responsibility to outline some of these concerns and also make that public,” said Associate Professor Ian Young.
“We just don’t feel the need to rush back to campus this semester and possibly put people at risk,” he added.
Young said there is limited information that is publicly available about ventilation upgrades at Ryerson but he would like more transparency on exactly what work has been done in order to feel confident that indoor spaces are safe.
In a statement, Ryerson told Global News, it has always been its intention to return to in-person classes and campus activities as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.
“In light of the ongoing direction provided by public health authorities, the University is confident that a gradual return to campus activities is safe. Our multi-layered approach to safety on campus will further help in safely welcoming back students, faculty and staff. ”
Bharwani, who is in his fourth year, said he takes public transportation from his home in Scarborough to get to school downtown. Travelling on the Toronto Transit Commission is also a concern for him.
“You have to cross through Eaton Centre or Dundas Station, one of the most crowded places in the city, if not Canada,” he said. “I am in a public space non-stop. I have days where I will be commuting for longer than I will be in class.”
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