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USF ‘expecting’ but not requiring masks and vaccines in the fall

Interim president Rhea Law calls on people to help protect each other. “Respectful responders’ will ease tense situations.
Students cross the University of South Florida's Tampa campus on the first day of classes last August. Masks were a requirement then in shared spaces such as classrooms. For the 2021-22 academic year, which starts Aug. 23, there will be no such requirements. But school officials are urging continued mask-wearing indoors and in large gatherings.
Students cross the University of South Florida's Tampa campus on the first day of classes last August. Masks were a requirement then in shared spaces such as classrooms. For the 2021-22 academic year, which starts Aug. 23, there will be no such requirements. But school officials are urging continued mask-wearing indoors and in large gatherings. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]
Published Aug. 13

The University of South Florida will strongly encourage, but not require, vaccines and masks on its campuses in the fall.

“We are not authorized to require or mandate mask-wearing. And so we’ve used the language that we ‘expect’” mask-wearing indoors and in large gatherings, Rhea Law, interim USF president, said Friday during a virtual town hall for faculty and staff.

“This is asking people to use their personal focus and responsibility to protect not only themselves but also the people around them,” Law said.

If masks become a contentious issue in the classroom, instructors can call a “respectful responder” to deescalate the situation. The volunteer responders, trained in conflict management, will be on-call in case tensions arise between faculty and students.

Students can decide not to wear a mask, said Donna Peterson, dean of USF’s College of Public Health. “But what they can’t do is disrupt our classrooms,” she added.

The rules are a departure from August 2020, when the university required masks in shared spaces such as classrooms, lobbies, elevators, stairwells and lounges, and when using campus transportation.

This year, with COVID-19 vaccines available, USF is offering free shots to all students, faculty and staff. Free COVID-19 testing will also be available on campus.

Classes begin Aug. 23 and a summer commencement ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 21.

The university is extending emergency sick leave through the end of September, said Angie Sklenka, USF’s chief human resources officer. If employees need to isolate, they can take advantage of that sick leave, she said.

Administrators asked employees to be flexible and accommodating with students in the semester ahead.

“We are keenly focused on the safety of our community while we work hard to provide a full college experience for our students,” Law said.

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