LSU Clock Tower (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)
Melissa Flournoy was scheduled to teach Louisiana Government and Politics and American Government in-person at LSU this semester before the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus began massively spreading across Louisiana over the summer.
Flournoy, a former Louisiana lawmaker and part-time LSU instructor, has a heart condition as well as eldery parents and a 72-year-old spouse at home, so she sent the university an employee accommodation request form to teach remotely this semester, along with a physician’s note “saying that she recommended I teach remotely.”
LSU denied Flournoy’s request less than two weeks later.
Flournoy said the university didn’t give her a specific reason why it was denied, “they just said that the university was taking ‘appropriate steps’ to protect the faculty and students, and they were not allowing remote teaching.”
Because she wasn’t allowed to teach remotely, Flournoy had to cancel her classes this semester outright — a decision she said left her “heartbroken.”
“My major frustration is that we were forced to teach online for the last two and a half semesters when COVID was not as bad,” Flournoy said in a phone call. “And here we are with this remarkably dangerous situation with the delta variant, and now the expectation is for everybody to be back on the campus again.”
“That’s not fair,” she said.
Flournoy’s biggest concern was for the roughly 100 seniors who now have to reshuffle their class schedules in order to have enough credits to graduate — creating a greater inconvenience for those students than if the class was available online, she said.
“I’m hoping all the students are able to find a replacement class,” she said.
Flournoy said she knows she’s not the only faculty member who had personal health issues or at-risk family members at home that was rejected from working in person.
“I think that the university should have allowed those faculty members that had a legitimate concern to teach remotely,” she said. “I guess I’m concerned and disappointed.”
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The criteria for approval was based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Ernie Ballard, a spokesperson for LSU said.
The American with Disabilities Act “allows for reasonable accommodations to assist employees with disabilities to perform their job responsibilities,” according to LSU’s website. Faculty and staff looking to apply for accommodation were asked to provide documentation by a healthcare professional of the faculty members’ limitations due to the disability “so appropriate accommodations can be determined by LSU.”
In total, about 75 graduate and undergraduate courses — less than 0.5 percent of the total fall semester course offerings — at LSU were moved online due to “some form of accommodation,” Ballard said.
The majority of requests for accommodation were approved, he said, but LSU did not answer questions about how many faculty and staff members applied for a medical exception to teach remotely or how many of those applications were rejected.
Jerry Ceppos, a journalism professor at LSU who has a compromised immune system, is a faculty member whose request to teach remotely due to a disability was approved.
Ceppos is grateful for the approval from the university, he said, but wished LSU required students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 over the summer, so “I — and anybody else who was given accommodation — probably wouldn’t need them,” he said. “I think I’d probably be in a classroom.”
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After deciding to not mandate the vaccine over the summer, LSU President William Tate announced earlier this week that students must have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 10. His announcement came immediately after the federal government gave full authorization to the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer. All three COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States prior to Pfizer’s approval were being administered under emergency authorization.
Even with an COVID-19 vaccine requirement though, LSU students will be able to fairly easily get out of any vaccine mandate. Louisiana law allows students to skip any required vaccine as long as they have a doctor note or provide a written dissent stating they don’t want to be vaccinated.
But Louisiana law also allows schools like LSU to remove students who aren’t vaccinated from classrooms and campus if there is an outbreak of the illness that the vaccine is supposed to stop. LSU has experienced COVID-19 outbreaks since the beginning of the pandemic.
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