COVID-19: Students scrambling as UBC Okanagan program suddenly shifts online

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COVID-19: Students scrambling as UBC Okanagan program suddenly shifts online
Sept. 7 is the highly-anticipated return to in-person learning for thousands of post-secondary students across the province amid new COVID-19 health and safety protocols, but not everyone is allowed to head back to class. As Shelby Thom reports, some students and parents have been left scrambling after the Human Kinetics program at UBC Okanagan suddenly announced a switch back to online learning with just one week notice – Aug 31, 2021

Parents and students are scrambling as the Human Kinetics program at UBC Okanagan was suddenly moved online just one week before the start of the fall 2021 semester.

Renee Jardine said her 20-year-old son, Tyler, was prepared to return to in-person learning on Sept. 7, following a difficult one-year hiatus to online education due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It definitely had an impact on our son. He is a very social person and doing the online learning and being stuck at home was certainly affecting his mental health. We were a little concerned,” Jardine told Global News.

“He is an active learner and it needs to be in-person. His grades went down. He felt that he didn’t learn what he should have and the quality of what he should have.”

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All indications from the provincial government and UBC administration were that in-person instruction was to resume in September with renewed health and safety measures in place.

That’s why Jardine said she was flabbergasted when her son received a letter on Friday that the School of Health and Exercise Sciences decided to move the fall 2021 semester mostly online.

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“I don’t agree with it. I think we have to get these students back in the classroom. The provincial government, as well as the university, are setting measures in place to get these students back, so I think it is time that we trust that for that mental health and well-being,” Jardine said.

“My son is fully vaccinated and we have been fully compliant with all of the mandates. Maybe they can do a hybrid for people who are not comfortable going back.”

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There are several comments from concerned parents and students on the UBC Okanagan Facebook page, questioning why the Human Kinetics program can’t return to in-person learning when other university courses are.

One mother posted that her son moved near campus, signed a $1500/month lease, and purchased a UBCO parking pass, with the understanding his program was returning to in-person instruction.

“We are not in that boat of having to pay for housing, but I know of many people that are,” Jardine said.

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“Parents and students are struggling as now they have to pay [for housing] and they don’t know when, or if, the classes are going to be back on, and they have to keep paying rent.”
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UBC announced on Aug. 26 that mandatory vaccinations will not be required for students attending in-person classes, however, those who are not fully vaccinated will be subject to rapid COVID-19 testing to get students safely back in the classroom.

“We will implement a process for confidential self-disclosure of vaccination status for all those who access our campuses, including students, faculty, staff and visitors,” said UBC president Santa Ono in an update to the school community last week.

The measure is in addition to the public health order related to the provincial vaccine card program, which requires proof of vaccination for those living in student housing.

Mandatory vaccinations will also be required for discretionary activities, including indoor ticketed concerts and sporting events; indoor and outdoor dining in restaurants, pubs and bars; indoor high-intensity group exercise; movie theatres; gyms, pools and recreation facilities; and indoor organized gatherings, such as conferences, weddings and parties, both on and off-campus.

Jardine said she is confident the new health and safety measures will protect students and staff amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.

Tanya Forneris, the interim academic lead with the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, said in a letter to students that the faculty made the decision to move lectures online based on the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the Interior Health region.

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“This decision has been made to ensure safety for everyone. With effective vaccines widely available we recognize that we are in a different place than we were at this time last year, but equally believe that a gradual transition back to full campus activity is needed to protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and their respective families,” the letter stated.

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Forneris said “in-person experiences” may still be offered throughout the fall semester to reconnect students on campus.

“These experiences will likely include labs, seminars and study support sessions, but will depend upon the size of the course, the learning outcomes, and also the prevailing COVID-19 situation,” the letter said.

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UBC Okanagan has not responded to a request for comment.

The City of Kelowna, where the UBC Okanagan campus is located, continues to be a COVID-19 hot spot in the province.

The Central Okanagan had 737 new cases from Aug. 15 to 21, for an average of 105 new cases a day. That’s a 20-per cent drop from the week earlier, when it had 922 cases.

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