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Youngstown State University's COVID-19 and masks policies sparks protest among staff and faculty

Posted at 6:49 AM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 06:49:10-04

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — There’s a wave of overwhelming concern at Youngstown State University (YSU) as staff and Ohio Education Association (OEA) members plan to protest the university’s COVID-19 policies ahead of the fall semester.

“We are not confident in the decision-making procedure,” said YSU Mark Vopat and YSU-OEA spokesperson.

Vopat says their frustration is fueled by YSU’s stance on COVID safety precautions. The university is currently one of the only public universities in Ohio not requiring social distancing or masks be worn indoors for the fall semester. Among those requiring masks are Kent State University, Ohio University, Oberlin College, Baldwin Wallace University and Ohio State University. Unvaccinated Cleveland State students are being asked to sign a social contract committing to wearing masks and social distancing. Some public universities are also requiring students living on campus and faculty and staff to be vaccinated prior to the start of fall semester.

“There's actually no protections outside of apparently our individual choice,” said Vopat.

CDC currently encouraging masks

Under CDC guidelines, anyone in an area with substantial community spread is encouraged to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. The state is currently not mandating masks. Governor DeWine has weighed in on the upcoming school year saying, right now the state is leaving it up to schools to decide if kids and teachers will have to wear masks, but he hopes they do.

As of now, YSU’s website says it’s relying on engineer-controlled ventilation, air filtration and widespread disinfection. Students, staff and faculty are encouraged to get vaccinated with on-campus clinics planned. However, 86% of courses will offer a face-to-face component, which is expected to bring classrooms back to pre-pandemic sizes.

“Instructors are not allowed to mandate masks in their classrooms and we're not actually allowed to require masks for students meeting with us in our offices,” said Vopat. “We have a large number of faculty with young children who can't get vaccinated. So, the concern is they're going to go into a classroom and take something home to their young children. YSU has a lot of nontraditional students and many of those students are either taking care of someone who might be susceptible to the virus or have children themselves. So, when you put all of that together, this becomes concerning given, you know, the recent numbers.”

OEA demands changes

Vopat says YSU-OEA is demanding input on health safety measures, a mask mandate and whatever data the university uses to come up with COVID protocols. YSU-OEA has requested the data used to formulate COVID-19 protection policies on campus, maintaining that current measures do not align with CDC or city and county health department guidelines.

“There's a threat also to the wider community if they're not if we're not taking proper precautions,” he said.

YSU responds to staff concerns

News 5 did reach out to YSU for comment on the planned protests surrounding its COVID-19 policies. Spokesperson, Ron Cole, said the administration is reviewing COVID protocols on campus with plans to meet with local and county health officials.

“As that information gathering continues, we will inform the YSU community of any changes via email and the university's COVID-19 website,” he said.

The university is also planning to send out a campus survey seeking information from students and employees regarding vaccines and campus protocols.

“There are many things that surveys are appropriate for. I'm not sure public health is one of those,” said Vopat.