St. FX students raise concerns with decision to move forward with in-person exams

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St. FX students voice concerns with in-person exams
Despite the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia, St. Francis Xavier University says they’re still moving forward with in-person exams before the holidays. As Graeme Benjamin reports, students are calling for the university to move exams online to ensure their safety – Nov 30, 2020

Despite a recent spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in Nova Scotia, St. Francis Xavier University has announced they have no plans to move exams online – much to the displeasure of some of the school’s students.

In an email to students on Friday, Kevin B. Wamsley, academic vice-president & provost at St. FX, said the university fully intends to complete the semester as planned, including exams.

“Keep calm and study on,” Wamsley said in the email.

“Go to class and write your final examinations according to schedule – remember that the term has already been shortened so that you will enjoy a longer holiday.”

READ MORE: On small Maritime campuses, a reopening that for many means a quiet room, alone

One hundred and twenty-six cases of COVID-19 cases have been identified in Nova Scotia over the past week, with the majority being in the Halifax Regional Municipality. But even though most of the cases have been identified in one zone, Public Health has been urging the entire province to change their habits.

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“No matter where you live in Nova Scotia, it is important to follow all public health measures,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, in a statement on Monday after 16 new cases were announced.

“While the majority of the cases are in the Central Zone, COVID-19 can easily find its way into other parts of the province. We must all remain vigilant and continue working to limit spread within, and beyond, Halifax.”

READ MORE:Nova Scotia reports 1 new coronavirus case at school in Kings County

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It’s for that reason why some students at St. FX say the university should be doing its part to move its exams into an online format.

“I was very disappointed in how the university has been handling this issue,” said Bailey Chisholm, a third-year economics student at St. FX. “The language in the email, even though they’re saying that they care about the students, and their mental health, and their grades, they’re not taking any steps to … facilitate the exam-taking process at all.”

Click to play video: 'St.FX University to Welcome Back Students in Fall'
St.FX University to Welcome Back Students in Fall

In his email, Wamsley indicated he’s been receiving questions from students anxious about the status of the semester, including the status of upcoming exams

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“My reply is simple: we have successfully navigated the semester free of COVID to date and we fully expect to complete semester as planned, including our exams,” he said.

Wamsley also noted that from a health and safety perspective, there is “no reason to leave St. FX and Antigonish as both remain COVID free and among the safest places in the country.”

“We really don’t know where we stand right now, so I think it’s naïve for any place of the Atlantic provinces to say we’re completely safe,” said Chisholm.

In a statement to Global News Monday evening, Wamsley reiterated that the university’s protocols for holding final examinations, which include masks and appropriate distancing, “meet or exceed all of the requirements mandated by Public Health.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia reports 16 new coronavirus cases, pop-up rapid testing set up in Wolfville

Chisholm shared in frustrations about in-person exams on social media, which she says has been resonating with other members of the St. FX community.

“I got a lot of messages from people who said they completely agree with my statements and that they were struggling to say how they felt and how unfair they felt this to be,” said Chisholm.

Siobhan Lacey, the vice-president of academic for the St. FX Student Union, says under the current Public Health protocols, in-person exams are technically still allowed to proceed.

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Lacey says the majority of feedback she’s received is from students from neighbouring provinces who rushed home ahead of the Atlantic bubble officially bursting.

“Those students are asking for accommodations be made for their in-person exams,” said Lacey, “just so they don’t have to isolate on Christmas Day, and they can be out and able to celebrate the holidays with their family.”

READ MORE: ‘It’s been a busy summer’: Acadia University prepares for challenging academic year

Lacey says those concerns are being handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the program.

Acadia University, Mount Allison University along with St. FX are the few post-secondary institutions in the Maritimes that have had a mix of in-person and online classes this year.

Lacey says the fact they’re even able to move forward with in-person exams this year speaks to the student body’s commitment to following Public Health protocols and keeping the virus off campus.

“I think we recognize how lucky we are compared to other schools in the province but also in Atlantic Canada and no student wants to be the one that jeopardizes that,” she said.

In his email to students, Wamsley wrote that as it stands now, the plan is continue to move forward with in-person classes starting on Jan. 20.


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