FAQs: Faculty and Staff

The Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning has a robust set of resources for supporting faculty and student success in the fall.

Teaching In Person

Are face coverings required in class? Can I wear a shield instead of a mask?

Face coverings such as masks are required for anyone (faculty, staff, students, contractors, visitors, etc.) in all buildings on campus.

Face shields do not provide the same level of protection; however, if you have respiratory impairment or other health issues that may prohibit the use of a face covering, you can request a face shield instead. Check with Human Resources.

What if a student comes to class without a face covering?

Check to see if the student has received an accommodation from Disability Services (ODS) from the requirement to wear a face covering.  If they have received an accommodation, they will have a faculty contact sheet from ODS (or ODS will have sent it to the faculty member in advance) that states they have received an accommodation and what it entails (e.g., wearing a face shield).  If the student has an accommodation they must comply with the requirements of the accommodation (e.g., if the accommodation is that they can wear a face shield instead of a face covering, they must be wearing the face shield). 

If the student does not have an approved accommodation from ODS (as demonstrated by a faculty contact sheet) and asserts that they need an accommodation, the faculty member should refer the student to ODS for assistance and should ask the student to either put on a face covering or leave the class until they have received an accommodation from ODS. 

If the student does not have an accommodation and does not assert that they need an accommodation, the student must comply with policy and wear a face covering in class. 

If the student refuses to comply, you may tell them they must leave the class. 

If the student refuses to comply, you may report them to the Office of Student Conduct as you would any other student who is failing to comply with university policy or is being disruptive in a classroom.

The university does not expect a significant number of students to be exempt from wearing masks.

If a student is exempted from wearing a face covering, what is the protocol if the instructor or other students are uncomfortable?

If a student has received an approved accommodation from the Office of Disability Serbices, the accommodation must be honored. We cannot discriminate against a student who has received an accommodation.

It is highly unlikely that a student will be given an accommodation from the face covering requirement such that they are in class without any COVID-19 precautions. Most students with accommodations will be required to use some other precaution such as a face shield or other barrier. 

The instructor should be informed in advance of the class, through a faculty contact sheet, that a student in their class has an accommodation from the face covering requirement.

If the instructor has any questions or concerns, they should contact ODS to discuss the accommodation. 

If a classmate is uncomfortable being in a class with a student who has received an accommodation from the face covering requirement, that student has the option of dropping the class. 

How do we maintain physical distancing when entering and leaving classrooms?

Students should fill classrooms beginning with the seat farthest from the door, sitting in available seats until the last student occupies the seat closest to the door.

When exiting the class, the process should be reversed, with the student nearest the door leaving the room first and everyone else filing out in order, while maintaining at least 6 feet of separation until the student farthest from the door exits.

In fixed-seat classrooms, follow the same procedure but do not use seats that are marked with signage or barriers saying DO NOT SIT HERE. Seats in fixed-seat classrooms are taken out of service to promote physical distancing.

Prior to and during entry to classrooms, students should continue to practice physical distancing by standing at least 6 feet apart. 

Can I designate/assign seats for students?

Yes, but it is not required.

Can I hold a class session outdoors?

Yes, weather permitting, students can meet outside, but no chairs may be moved out of a classroom. Physical distancing rules must be followed, and face coverings are still required.

Can I host field trips or other off-campus site visits?

Yes. Students must complete the Field Trip Form in Appendix C of the Experiential Learning Agreement (PDF). Mason’s face covering policy applies during field trips or other off-campus site visits.

Can I invite guest speakers to my class?

Mason welcomes visitors to our campuses provided they are not experiencing a fever or symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been exposed to a COVID-19 positive case in the past 14 days.

While on campus(es), visitors must follow Mason's health and safety practices.

Guest speakers should only be invited where classroom space allows.

How do I handle make-up exams?

Arrange a session through your department.

If a classroom next door is empty, can I use that space?

No. Classrooms are on a strict schedule for the fall that also includes cleaning time.

Can I add students to a full class?

Space capacity has been carefully assessed for each classroom. Do not add additional students beyond space capacity, even if they want to sit on the floor.

Can I change my assigned class model (from fully to partially in person, for example)?

Students are preparing for the course modality for which they registered. If personal circumstances demand a modality shift, contact your unit/department for options.

Can my graduate teaching assistant attend my in-person class?

Where classroom space allows, he or she can make the decision to attend, depending on their health and comfort level.

How are Graduate Teaching Assistants, Graduate Research Assistants, Graduate Professional Assistants, and graduate student wage positions affected?

Students holding these positions should be attentive to their employment responsibilities while protecting their health and that of others.

Graduate students who hold teaching or research appointments should discuss remote options with their supervisors, in consultation with their graduate program director.

Supervisors are asked to be as accommodating as possible.

Questions about assistantship contracts and work expectations for the 2020-21 academic year also should be directed to your supervisor or hiring unit.

Human Resources can offer more details.

COVID Exposure in the Classroom

If a student is sick, has a positive test, or needs to quarantine, how will we address missing assignments?

As with any semester in which a student is sick for an extended period, this semester carries the same responsibility. 

  • Accept assignments virtually when possible.
  • Urge the student to reach out to discuss a plan to make up work.
  • Pre-plan for this potential occurrence.
  • Advise a student to take an incomplete if they have passing grades, but can't come back.
  • Advise the student to withdraw if they can't manage the material and assignments.

If students must quarantine more than once, they might be advised to retake the class in another semester. Encourage them to talk to their academic advisors.

Your unit/department might also have guidance on how best to deliver content and evaluation of learning. You can also check the academic calendar for add/drop deadlines.

If a student in my course tests positive, does the whole class need to quarantine? Would we have to switch to online?

The local health department will conduct contact tracing to determine if students in the class are considered close contacts. Generally speaking, one case (student or faculty) will not result in quarantine for the entire class.

What happens if I or someone I'm living with/caring for contracts COVID?

If a faculty member is sick (self-isolation), in quarantine, or awaiting testing or testing results, they will not conduct classes in person.

Each academic unit/department has a plan to address faculty members who can't continue the course. Another faculty member may be able to step in and continue teaching.

What happens if someone gets sick during class?

In an emergency situation, call the emergency number listed in the classroom (or 911) with the phone in the room or a personal cell phone.

Otherwise, contact facilities work control at 703-993-2525 or classroom support at 703-993-3456.

Classroom Modifications

What changes are being made to meet physical distancing requirements?

Classrooms and instructional spaces have been modified to allow 6 feet of distance between students; faculty have been allocated more space, up to 100 square feet. The university is providing public health supplies to research spaces, customer service locations, classrooms and office suites to promote adherence to public health and safety precautions.

Can I move furniture to enable small group work in my in-person class?

No. To maintain physical distancing requirements at all times, faculty should not rearrange any furniture in classrooms.

What technology will be available in my classroom? How will I learn to use it?

Details about the technology available in your classroom, as well as instructional guides, can be found at the Stearns Center Classroom Guide.

I want to livestream my class for students who can't attend. How can I do that?

The available technology in classrooms can vary. For details on what is available, check the Stearns Center Classroom Guide.

Will faculty podiums have a plexiglass barrier?

No. Given that faculty are active in their classrooms, the university has instituted greater physical distancing and the use of face coverings to ensure safety.

How do I request specialized technology/software for an in-person class?

Do we have guidelines on keeping doors and windows open or closed?

When weather and outside temperatures permit, classrooms with operable windows may be opened to allow fresh air to circulate. You must close the windows before you leave the room.

Classroom doors should be closed when classes are in session or when vacant but should be left open during class changeover to minimize contact with door handles.

Student Accommodations

How do I support students with disabilities or need accommodations related to COVID-19?

Find guidance on Mason’s Disability Services web siteUniversity Life also has resources to help students learn in an online environment.

Am I required to accommodate online students in an in-person class?

If the course is not identified as a hybrid course, you do not have to accommodate online students in your in-person class.

Am I required to record classes and make these recordings available to students?

Recordings are only necessary if you have defined your course as a hybrid and you have no other plans for how to provide students with your materials.

We understand that not every course is appropriate for recording, so this is not required.

What is expected, however, is that you have a way of providing class content for students who may suddenly be unable to attend your class.

Are instructors obligated to make missed class content available online for those in quarantine? Those uncomfortable with coming to campus?

Best practice suggests that instructors carefully consider how to provide content to all students taking the class, regardless of modality.

How do I advise students during this time?

Faculty and staff who are advising students should visit Mason’s Keep Advising page.

General Questions

How will decisions be made on who works on campus and who works remotely?

Supervisors identify roles that require the presence of a staff member.

Employees best suited to meet those responsibilities will return to campus.

We realize some employees will have children at home because schools and day care centers are closed.

Supervisors are encouraged to be as flexible as possible, and we encourage supervisors and employees to discuss how best to coordinate the employee’s need for flexibility and the unit’s business needs.

Employee Relations can provide information, answer questions, and be a resource.

Will housekeeping clean offices frequently, or am I responsible for my own workspace?

University housekeeping services will clean common areas and open spaces. Suites and offices will be cleaned with disinfectant every evening.

During the day, faculty and staff are responsible for periodic cleaning of office spaces as necessary.

Each suite will be provided with cleaning supplies that includes disinfectant spray and towels. Soap and water can also be used to clean work areas.

Find out more about cleaning protocols.

What are the protocols for cleaning classrooms?

High-contact surfaces in classrooms will be cleaned and disinfected with an EPA-approved disinfectant twice each day during normal operation hours, in addition to regular overnight cleaning.

High-contact surfaces in classrooms include:

  • Doorknobs/handles/push-plates
  • Chairs
  • Desks
  • Lecterns
  • Storage cubicles
  • Demonstration tables
  • AV Control remotes.

If you use microphone in the classroom, dispose of the microphone cover, and the incoming instructor will put on a fresh cover.

Sanitizing wipes will be in or near every classroom so students can disinfect individual desks/chairs, and faculty can disinfect the lectern/table/AV controls at the start of every class. 

Hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed in common areas in classroom buildings. Find more information about cleaning protocols.

Are there restrictions on attending conferences or other work-related travel?

Yes. The University Travel Advisory Committee (UTAC) has suspended all international travel through the end of fall semester, with the exception of travel to South Korea.

Exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Field work that requires domestic travel outside Virginia also falls under review of UTAC.

If it's considered research activity, it must be reviewed and approved by the Research Review Committee.

I’m a faculty or staff member concerned about a student's mental health. What do I do?

Call Mason Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 703-993-2380 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

After normal business hours and on weekends, you will be directed to “press 1” to connect Protocall with the student in need.

If the student is experiencing a medical emergency or is in a life-threatening situation, contact 911 directly, and clearly state the student’s location (on campus or off campus) for an immediate response.

Mason Police can also be called for assistance at 703-993-2810.

I’m stressed and anxious about COVID-19. Where can I get help?

Faculty and staff who have benefits with the university to use the resources available to them through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Human Resources and Payroll created a resource list for those who do not have Mason benefits.

Find more information on resources for mental and emotional well-being.

How does Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) work?

PHEL can be used to:

  • Attend to medical needs if you or a family member is being tested or treated for COVID-19.
  • If your job is not conducive to telework or other alternatives are not possible.
  • If you have chronic health conditions or are age 65 or older and there are no flexible work options available to maintain social distancing.
  • To look for alternative child care arrangements due to day care/school closures as a result of COVID-19.

PHEL cannot be used to care for your own child.

For details, review the PHEL Guide.

For details on all COVID-19 leave types, view the COVID-19 Leave Guidance Chart.

I have financial issues. What help is available?

Under the CARES Act, 403(b) plan participants can take in-service distributions with no 10 percent early distribution penalty or 20 percent withholding for coronavirus-related distributions.

Contact the retirement plan vendor to confirm eligibility, request a coronavirus-related loan and address additional questions about the CARES Act distribution and loan circumstances or processes.

If your account is with Fidelity, log into NetBenefits or call 1-800-343-0860.

If your account is with TIAA, log into TIAA or call 1-800-842-2252.

Find more information on the CARES Act. (PDF)

Is the Child Development Center (CDC) going to reopen?

Yes, on August 3. The CDC will meet class size, physical distancing, health screening, and cleaning and disinfection requirements outlined in the guidance on the Virginia Department of Social Services' Child Care Virginia site.

The Center will opening with a maximum of 66 students, down from the previous total of 104. 

Find out more about the CDC's plans.

Can faculty return to their labs?

Faculty are permitted to come back to their labs following the Research Continuity and Safety Guidelines. They must fill out a form and must have approval from their chair, associated dean of research, Environmental Health and Safety, and their dean. 

I'm a new faculty member, can I get some guidance?

Visit our Mason faculty resource page for information about working here, professional development opportunities, research and teaching support, and links to other critical information.