SFU students plan walkout as they return to in-person learning

SFU students are returning to the classroom Monday for the first time this year.

Due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, several post-secondary students delayed the start of the spring semester.

Many SFU students were hoping the delay would be even longer; more than 4,300 students signed an online petition calling for remote learning to continue, and now, a walkout is scheduled for Monday morning.

Second-year student Dharshan Dasrath said he is concerned about returning to in-person learning because he needs to take two buses and the SkyTrain to get to campus, and he is concerned about being infected with the coronavirus on public transit or in the classroom.

“It gets very worrisome because I'm OK if I catch COVID, but I interact with my grandma daily, and if something was to happen to her, I think I would be very distraught,” he explained.

These concerns are what the Simon Fraser Student Society has been hearing.

In a recent survey, it found two-thirds of students express some discomfort about returning and roughly 70 per cent of students would like to see some form of virtual learning.

“There's just a general sentiment that it's way too soon to be going back, especially since they don't really know how Omicron spreads in academic settings,” said outgoing SFSS president Gabe Liosis.

An anonymous group of walkout organizers is calling on the university to provide access to N95 masks and rapid tests, introduce hybrid learning and extend the date to withdraw from classes.

“We reject the irresponsible and reckless handling of SFU,” said one of the organizers, who did not wish to be identified.

“It seems that SFU is following the provincial government who wants to ‘return to normal’ as soon as possible, regardless of the deaths and long-term effects of COVID-19.”

Liosis said the walkout organizers’ demands are the same as what the SFSS has been calling for since the start of the fall semester.

“Our calls to action haven't changed. It's just a matter of whether or not the university is going to listen to us, to take in our opinion and convince us the situation that they are trying to put us in is going to be a safe one and not one that's going to put us in unnecessary risk,” he said.

He said the SFSS recently voted to close the Student Union Building to prevent spread.

In an email statement, Dr. Catherine Dauvergne, SFU’s academic vice-president and provost, wrote that the university understands the anxiety and concerns students are experiencing from the pandemic.

“We know that there are a wide range of opinions and preferences amongst our community, but it’s particularly important to note that the majority of in-person classroom and learning settings are not considered close-contact environments for the transmission of COVID-19, based on the layers of protection that are in place, i.e., vaccination, masks, and ventilation,” she wrote.

She added there have been no reports of COVID-19 transmission in the classroom setting since the fall semester.

She said there are options available to students who feel like they cannot return to the classroom.

“We have strengthened supports for students feeling anxiety and we encourage all students in need of support to reach out,” she wrote.

The walkout is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Convocation Mall; participants are able to attend in-person or online.

UBC students will not be returning to in-person learning until Feb. 7 at the earliest.