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Irish university warns students that lecturers may call security if masks aren't worn in class

It’s just one of a number of approaches taken by universities as doors have reopened.

Image: Shutterstock/narongpon chaibot

AN IRISH UNIVERSITY has told students that campus security may forcibly remove them from lectures if they refuse to wear a face coverings or leave a classroom, as part of plans to ensure the safe return of classes this year.

In an email circulated to students in one faculty in recent weeks, University College Cork told students that lecturers will ask them to wear a mask or leave the lecture hall if they turn up to a classroom without a face covering.

A source told The Journal that lecturers at the faculty could call security if requests to wear a mask were not complied with and that, if security cannot show up in a timely manner, the lecturer may instead end the lecture, which would not be repeated.

The email also said that any students concerned would be invited to a meeting with the Dean and could be referred to Campus Watch or the university’s student discipline committee for violating student rules.

A UCC spokesperson said that students are required to wear face coverings when attending lectures, and that lanyards would be made available to those with a medical exemption.

The measure is just one of a number of approaches taken by Irish universities as they return to in-person teaching this autumn for the first time since the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris published a plan for the safe return to on-campus activity for this academic year.

At a minimum, the plan allows for workshops, tutorials, classroom-based learning and smaller lectures.  There will also be a “common-sense approach” to college bars, canteens, sports and social clubs.

At a maximum, the plan allowed for large-scale lectures with “modifications”.

The Department of Further and Higher Education said that, given the diversity of the sector, it was necessary for institutions to “make their own plans” within the framework for reopening, an approach endorsed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan.

Although the wearing of face masks is mandatory during lectures in all of Ireland’s universities, the approach taken by each institution differs – specifically in relation to when exemptions apply and how those who refuse to wear face coverings will be dealt with.

Trinity College said that students who attend lectures or classes without a mask will be asked to leave by their lecturers, and that classes cannot proceed until they do so.

“Students are required to wear masks in classroom settings unless they have an exemption in which case they will be encouraged to wear a visor,” a spokesperson for the university said.

The college also explained that Trinity’s disability service can issue exemptions to students who cannot wear masks for medical reasons.

Those who have other reasons – including “extreme anxiety” – can obtain an exemption if they present a letter from their GP or the university’s health service outlining their reasons for not being able to wear a mask.

Similarly, students at Maynooth University are asked to provide confirmation from a GP or consultant if they are medically unable to wear a mask.

A spokesperson said the university has “a range of sanctions” in cases where students do not comply with Covid-19 guidelines, although it was not specified what these sanctions are.

NUI Galway likewise said that exempt students could engage with the university’s disability support service to receive a letter outlining why they can’t wear a mask, but that coverings were mandatory in all other indoor settings and that classes could be cancelled and individuals referred to the Dean of students for refusing to wear one. 

The University of Limerick said that those who refuse to wear a face covering (or a visor if they are medically exempt) will be asked to leave lectures and classrooms as a courtesy to other students.

“If a student refuses to comply, the lecturer may suspend the lecture or lab session at their discretion,” a UL spokesperson said.

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Technological University Dublin said that lecturers could remove their masks if they were at least two metres from their classes and comfortable doing so, but a spokesperson suggested that there are no other exceptions to rules.

“Students who, for medical reasons, cannot attend lectures in person or wear a mask should make their situation known to their programme lead to arrange alternative arrangements such as online academic provision,” a statement said.

A UCD spokesperson confirmed that face coverings are mandatory in all public places indoors, but the university did say whether it had a specific policy in place to enforce the wearing of face masks.

A guidance document issued by DCU’s earlier this month explained that staff should wear face masks at most times, but suggested there were some instances where students could remove them – including for medical reasons.

The guidance also noted that staff would not be expected to “police” mask wearing, but that they should encourage the wearing of face coverings by students.

“It is reasonable to remind students that it is DCU policy that masks are worn in indoor spaces,” the guidance reads.

“If a student is uncooperative, please get their name and student id number and contact the DCU Covid Helpline with the details.”

A spokesperson for Dublin City University said the college has had no incidents of students refusing to wear masks since face-to-face teaching and learning resumed on Monday.

A statement add that the university’s student support team has been engaging with students who have a medical exemption from wearing a mask to ensure that they can attend classes and that staff are informed. 

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