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Returning to class 'not the safest option,' Lakehead students say

Thousands sign online petition urging university not to re-open classes on Jan. 31; Omicron is 'affecting young people even more than previous variants,' warns student
2020-02-22 Orillia Wetsuweten rally 14
Brandon Rhéal Amyot, vice president of the Lakehead University Student Union for the Orillia campus, says in-person learning should not resume until late-February. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters File Photo

Lakehead University wants in-person classes to resume next week, but a growing number of students don’t think it’s safe enough yet to return to campus.

An online petition started by the Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) says the school’s plan to re-open classrooms on Jan. 31 “is not the safest option,” and it urges the university to wait until the end of February instead. So far, more than 2,100 people have signed the petition.

“We are now facing an Omicron variant that is far more transmissible and it’s affecting young people, even more than previous variants,” said Brandon Rhéal Amyot, LUSU’s vice president for the Orillia campus. “There is no testing, there is very little contact tracing, and students are having challenges with getting accommodations.”

Rhéal Amyot said although most students do want to return to the classroom, the transition has to be done safely and students should be given the option to continue their studies online until they feel comfortable.

“We believe that we should come back at the end of our reading week (Feb. 28), similar to Georgian College locally,” they said. “When we return, some changes should be made to not only make us feel safer but also to provide more safety measures.”

Rhéal Amyot would like to see rapid tests become available to students, as well as better masks and more guidance.

“Testing has significantly dropped in the province because of the eligibility criteria, and while cases on the surface appear to be going down, we really don’t know,” they said. “What we do know is hospitalizations amongst young people are still quite high across the province and in our region.”

“We just want to ensure students are safe whether they are in-person or learning virtually.”

Rhéal Amyot, 25, is currently in the third year of studying political science, media, film, and communication. While they are passionate about continuing virtual learning for the safety of students, they admit that being a student is tough while learning off-campus with no extracurricular activities.

“For those of us who want to be a part of the community and our campus life, it’s hard,” they said. “We can only do so many Zoom events and check-ins. People are fatigued academically and socially.”

“For me, I really depend on being around people on a day-to-day basis. Even if I don’t have a class I love to be on campus and to be in the environment. That was somewhat possible last semester when things were safer.”

Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans, principal of Lakehead's Orillia campus, says the school is taking all necessary steps to keep students safe when they return on Jan. 31.

“To help protect those on our campuses, Lakehead has a mandatory vaccination policy that applies to anyone accessing our premises,” he said in a written statement to OrilliaMatters.

Lakehead University requires students to complete mandatory daily COVID screenings using a mobile safety app, and they must present vaccine passports and follow COVID protocols such as masking, physical distancing, and hand washing.

Jobin-Bevans also notes students have been provided with the necessary guidance they need to return to campus. Each instructor, supervisor, and student has been given a guide for how to manage any COVID  cases that arise on campus, and accommodations will be made for those who need them.

“As always, our COVID-19 transition committee considers the health and well-being of our university community as its top priority,” he said.

“We will continue to assess and respond appropriately to the ever-changing pandemic situation. Should public health officials or the province advise differently, Lakehead University will assess how that information impacts our campuses, and we will continue to adhere to directives and recommendations that help ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.”

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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