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COVID-19 concerns close SFU Burnaby building for students

"The university is relying on students to keep other students safe and has thus abdicated institutional and personal responsibility"
The Simon Fraser University Student Union Building in Burnaby.

The Simon Fraser University Student Society has announced the closure of the Student Union Building until the middle of next month, citing unsafe conditions due to COVID-19. 

Yesterday (Jan. 24), a walkout involving staff, faculty and students took place at the Burnaby campus in opposition to in-person classes commencing once again. 

"It has been voted on and passed for the Student Union Building (SUB) to be closed from Jan. 24 to Feb. 18, 2022. We want to outline some of the decision-making that happened before this vote and ensure that we are transparent to our membership, whom we are accountable to, throughout the process," the society wrote in a letter on Jan. 21, 2022. 

"In regards to high COVID-19 cases across the province and the return to campus mandated by Simon Fraser University (SFU), the SFSS Council does not believe SFU is taking appropriate measures to protect our membership. 

"The university is relying on students to keep other students safe and has thus abdicated institutional and personal responsibility." 

The society said on Jan. 18, 2022, the following motion was passed by the executive committee: 

"Be it resolved that the executive committee approve the following measures until at least Feb. 18, 2022: 

  • The student union building shall continue to operate at reduced capacity
  • That all in-person services shall, where possible, continue to be offered virtually
  • That staff shall be encouraged to work remotely
  • That staff working in-person shall be limited to one-person per office, regardless of physical distancing or wearing face coverings
  • That executive officers shall work remotely, where possible, and must complete the "COVID-19 sign-in form" before attending the Student Union Building in--person
  • That no in-person meetings shall be held at any SFSS space

Be it further resolved that, before Feb. 18, 2022, the executive committee must decide on whether to extend these measures or implement further measures."

The letter added the executive committee also unanimously voted to recommend to council to close the SUB which required council's vote. 

"Bringing this recommendation to Council, the SFSS Executive shared the results of the SFSS Learning Experience and COVID-19 Student Feedback Survey. After a thorough debate spanning over three and a half hours, 38 out of 42 Councillors voted in favour of the following motion to close the Student Union Building." 

The SFSS location at the Surrey campus will also be closed and re-open on Feb. 18, 2022.

"This is not a decision that was made lightly," the society added in the letter. "The SFSS Executive and Management has met daily since December 23rd, 2021 to discuss how to keep staff and membership safe during this time of increased precaution.

"Council not only took into consideration how this decision would affect the mental health of both staff members still expected to work in-person and those who work remotely, but also the mental health o the community members that regularly use the Student Union Building as a place of rest, work, community, and collaboration."

"It is unfortunate that we have to make this decision, however, our concerns are the safety and health of those on campus. We fully acknowledge the importance of the Student Union Building to both the mental and social health of those who use the building. However, we cannot and will not risk the lives of our staff and membership. We are not willing to contribute to a potential increase in COVID-19 case numbers on campus, and will not bear the brunt of decisions made by the University." 

On Dec. 23, following many other universities, SFU announced a temporary two-week shift to remote learning from Jan. 10 to 23. 

The extremely transmissible Omicron variant was the driving factor for institutions to move to online learning while B.C. saw record-breaking daily case counts and record hospitalizations.

"SFU has had a very safe and successful return to campus," the school said in a statement on Dec. 23. 

"Safety remains our top priority, and includes the mental health and wellness of our students, faculty and staff. 

"This brief shift to some of our learning and teaching will provide time to learn more about the situation and consider additional tools to support a full in-person return."

Yesterday (Jan. 24), a media statement addressing the walkout called out the university's "irresponsible and reckless eugenicist and ableist policy makers within university and government."

"It is those policy makers who are okay with them dying due to COVID-19 in defense of "going back to normal" regardless of deaths and long term effects of COVID-19. We stand in solidarity with all students, staff and faculty, and will continue to do so until their demands have been fully met. Our academic institutions are complicit in this violation of students’, faculty, and staff’s rights to a safe learning environment and workplace.

"Simon Fraser University is the largest post-secondary institution in BC to not extend their online learning and is not prioritizing student safety. 

"In its release it continues to pit the mental health of students against the anxiety that students feel during in-person. We call for a responsible, involved and compassionate approach to COVID-19 that centres safety for the community on campus."

The statement said in any response to learning, the following demands must be met:

  • Extension of remote learning, until safe to return in-person
  • Permanent hybrid learning
  • Free N95 masks
  • Rapid testing on 3 campuses
  • Extension of tuition and course withdrawal deadlines
  • Consulting student unions, labour unions and faculty unions and meeting their demands for safety
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