Several postsecondary institutions across the country have cancelled in-person final exams for the remainder of the school year because of rising COVID-19 cases among students.
Students at the University of Victoria, Dalhousie, Queen’s and St. Francis Xavier University will offer alternative delivery formats, such as taking exams online or at home. Some schools are also considering postponing or even cancelling tests. The decisions were made after outbreaks and clusters were declared within the student population at most of these institutions.
UVic posted its announcement Sunday and the measures took effect Monday. Last week, the university said local public-health officers had confirmed an increase in COVID cases among students who attended two off-campus social gatherings.
UVic and Island Health, the local health authority, said in a joint statement that as of Monday, 124 cases have sprung up in a cluster among students who attended those events, and at least four are the Omicron variant of concern.
Lynne Marks, president of the University of Victoria Faculty Association, said teachers received the notice before 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“They are stressed about the amount of work required to transition to online exams in a short period of time,” Dr. Marks said in an e-mail. “All of the faculty I have heard from also recognize that this shift to online exams was necessary, to protect the health and safety of students and instructors.”
University of Victoria Students’ Society said in a statement that it supports the new arrangement.
“Although many students wish it had come sooner, the decision to no longer have in-person exams helps to ease student concerns and keep us safe,” it read.
Monday is the last day for in-person exams at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The school said all remaining exams will be online, postponed or cancelled. The decision came after an increase in confirmed and presumptive cases among Dalhousie’s student community, and one initial presumptive case among faculty/staff.
“We understand these developments are concerning, particularly as they come at the end of term right before the December break. But this is a situation we anticipated was possible and have prepared for. Our top priority remains everyone’s safety and well-being. Now more than ever, everyone must follow public-health and university safety protocols, including masks and rules/restrictions in residences,” president and vice-chancellor Deep Saini said in a post on the university’s website.
Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., also made the decision to postpone in-person exams on Monday, after 282 cases were confirmed in the university community between Dec. 6-12, according to the school’s case tracker.
The university said in a release that because of the prevalence of the Omicron variant in the Kingston region, the local health authority strongly encouraged all students to get tested for COVID before leaving the region for the winter break. The Eastern Ontario city is also limiting gatherings to a maximum of five people in response to in-community spread of the new variant.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit said that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and widely in the Southwestern Ontario area because of the Omicron variant, and asked residents to limit their contacts as much as possible.
Olivia Caruso, a graduate student at University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., is calling on the school to cancel its in-person exams.
“In moving forward with in-person exams, the university is forcing students to be seated indoors among hundreds of their peers for extended periods, with exams often running for over two hours,” Ms. Caruso wrote in an e-mail.
“As a graduate student at the university, I fear being exposed to the virus when I proctor undergraduate exams.”
Western said its administration is in conversation with the health unit and assessing the situation.
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