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Professors’ last resort: Canceling class over masks

At least one class has been dismissed early this semester due to students’ failure to follow university-wide mask wearing policies.

On Wednesday, Feb. 9, Joe Sampson, senior clinical professor of journalism, dismissed his journalism 101 class early after at least one student refused to wear a mask properly, despite multiple warnings. Throughout the class, Sampson observed up to half a dozen students not wearing their masks properly. 

After multiple warnings, and yet another instance of a student not wearing his mask properly (who did not appear to make any moves to leave the class when Sampson directed him to), Sampson dismissed the class with approximately 25 minutes remaining.

Sampson said the class, which has about 60 students, is held in a lecture hall that could fit 300, making it harder to enforce the mask mandate than in a classroom.

“I don't have a problem in terms of students not coming to class with a mask,” Sampson said. “They come to class with a mask. The problem I have is they're wearing it around their neck. And as I said to them, that's no different than not coming with one at all.”

Sampson emphasized that after more than a year of teaching with the mask mandate, this is the first time he’s had to dismiss class early due to students’ failure to comply with the policy.

“I'm pretty patient, but I have zero tolerance for students who are going to endanger the health and safety of the class and who are going to create a disruption to our learning,” Sampson said. “I said, ‘I'm not going to cancel any more classes. That's not going to happen. Instead, if I observe any of you not complying, I'll deal with you individually.’”

Sampson said a couple students thanked him for what he had done after class was dismissed. Another student even explained that she was one of the students not wearing her mask properly, and apologized.

Sampson said he addressed the incident with his class the following Monday, and no problems have occurred since.

As of Feb. 23, Miami maintained its indoor mask mandate, which states that, “Face coverings are required indoors at all times regardless of vaccination status, except as exempted under the university’s COVID-19 policy.”

Under Miami’s COVID-19 policy, professors are instructed on what procedures to follow if a student refuses to wear a mask.

According to the policy, if a student comes to a class, lab or studio without a face covering, the instructor should first ask the student to comply with the mask mandate. If the student refuses, instructors are directed to ask the student to leave, and that the class will not continue until they do so.

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The policy then states that if the student still refuses, “the instructor should dismiss the class/studio/lab and immediately report the student to the Office of Community Standards. Students reported to the Office of Community Standards may be summarily suspended from the class/studio/lab.”

A link is included to a “COVID-19 Related Concern Reporting Form” where students can be reported to the university for failing to follow the mask mandate.

Provost Jason Osborne said that students not following the mask policy has not been a widespread issue on campus.

“In developing this policy, we try to anticipate a lot of different eventualities and a lot of different situations,” Osborne said. “And so of course we're really talking about just in the classroom, but of course there's all different issues … so what we try to do with this is understand that everyone's coming to this from a different place and with different dispositions and inclinations toward masking, but nevertheless, it is the policy.”

Osborne said the policy has a goal of education, and he’s heard of very few incidents where professors were forced to dismiss a class because of the mask policy.

“You always have 95% of the people who are trying to do the right thing,” Osborne said. “And then there's a small percent who need to be reminded and a much, much smaller percent who are fully not doing that. But it has not been a widespread issue here.”

Miami will revisit the mask mandate when transmission rates for both Butler County and the 45056 zip code drop below the high transmission threshold.