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75,000 Florida college students petition for pass/fail grading, citing coronavirus

Students at six of the state’s largest universities push for relief as fears over the pandemic take a mental toll.
A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where nearly 7,000 students have signed a petition urging the school to institute a pass/fail grading system for this semester because of the coronavirus. [Times (2019)]

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Thousands of Florida college students are petitioning administrators to expand pass/fail grading, following a state order this month to all public universities to move classes online to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Pass/fail grading, also known as S/U grading, allows a student to take a course and receive either an S, which means satisfactory, or a U, which means unsatisfactory. Some classes are designed with that grading, and in others, students can apply for it. The petitions are asking that the application process be open to all students.

As of Tuesday afternoon, a combined 75,000 students had signed petitions for six of the state’s largest schools: the University of South Florida, the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University.

All petitions started March 17, a few days after the Board of Governors for the State University System directed universities to move classes online. They cite students’ general stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus, as well as the challenges that come with remote instruction.

“It is very probable that the academic averages of the student body will be affected greatly,” reads the petition by USF students, which has nearly 7,000 signatures.

“Many students are having to pack and return home while juggling studying for exams or completing assignments,” it continues. “This fear caused by knowing the community is at risk is also bound to cause stress which will undoubtedly affect performance in school.”

Related: Students at multiple Florida universities test positive for the coronavirus

The petition by UF students notes that higher education institutions elsewhere have made the switch to pass/fail grading due to the coronavirus, and that the pandemic is “having an overall negative effect on the esteem and mental health” of the student body. About 18,000 people have signed.

“Online instruction is incomparable to the experience and learning that one may have in the class and during in-person lectures,” the petition reads. “Although many students may transition seamlessly to learning online, there will be an indisputable part of our student body that will face difficulties in focusing and/or truly understanding class material.”

UF’s website notes that the school “is working on” a pass/fail option but no details are provided. The measure is being considered by leaders at USF, spokesman Adam Freeman said Tuesday.

“We’ve heard from faculty, students, parents and others that there is a desire to provide as much relief as possible during these uncertain times,” he said. “We are giving consideration to a pass/fail model for this semester.”

Biomedical science sophomore Lea Baddoura, who organized the petition at USF, said she hopes administrators side with students as they grapple with the unprecedented challenges brought on by the virus.

“I know so many people facing unemployment right now, and now they’ve announced that people at USF have tested positive,” she said. “I just feel like grades are going to drop and students should be given some kind of chance to still succeed under all this pressure.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the date Florida ordered all state universities to move classes online.

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