Georgetown University Law Center students who are parents and guardians of young children are calling on administrators to mandate virtual class attendance options to prevent spreading COVID-19 to their families.
Many law students taking care of young children or immunocompromised family members have reported concerns about COVID-19 exposure because Georgetown Law does not require social distancing in J.D. classes, causing them to fear for their young, unvaccinated children. Students are calling on the Law Center to implement flexible policies, such as virtual options for classes, to support community health.
Law students with young children or immunocompromised family members are primarily asking for a virtual or hybrid option for their classes, according to Benjamin Welna (LAW ’22), who has a 6-month-old son.
“It’s very hard to engage in class and be focused when I’m concerned about people potentially being sick,” Welna said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “It’s a horrible prospect, really, coming home after a day of school and thinking I could be transmitting something to my son.”
Children under 12 have not been approved to receive COVID-19 vaccines; while Pfizer recently announced it will seek authorization to vaccinate individuals ages 5 to 11, without the vaccine, young children are at a higher risk of severe infection than vaccinated adults. Further, the Food and Drug Administration is prioritizing clearance for children above 5; children 4 years old and younger are not currently being tested for the COVID-19 vaccine.
According to Welna, the Law Center should mandate all professors to offer alternative class attendance until young children can be safely vaccinated.
“My issue with sort of mandating that every single person returned to the classroom is that not all students at Georgetown are young, single and healthy,” Welna said. “The way that the schools will proceed, particularly with the in-person mandate, puts the risk on the most vulnerable. It puts the risk on our children and puts the risk on families who are living with illnesses.”
The Law Center has policies in place to protect against COVID-19 transmission in the classroom, including requiring that students wear masks indoors and fill out a COVID-19 daily check-in to obtain a green GOCard badge for entrance to campus buildings.
While most students have been cooperative with university mask requirements, students expressed discomfort after an individual entered a Student Bar Association (SBA) meeting Sept. 15 without a mask and spoke out against mask mandates, according to tweets from Law Center students and SBA delegates.
Jade Baker (LAW ’22), president of the SBA, declined to comment on the incident when contacted by The Hoya.
While administrators committed to enforcing COVID-19 masking and testing policies in an Aug. 30 email to Law Center students, Welna said officials have placed too heavy a burden on students and faculty to enforce rules themselves.
“Unfortunately, what really happens in these situations is the onus it puts on students like myself, who are particularly vulnerable, to have to speak up and say something if we see students who are not wearing masks,” Welna said.
According to Karl Hudspith (LAW ’23), who cares for a 21-month-old child, the university has not adequately enforced COVID-19 safety policies.
“We’ve had three weeks of classes and I’ve had yet to show my green badge once, and I’ve entered all three of the law campus buildings multiple times,” Hudspith said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “So that is a 100% failure rate on that specific policy.”
The university has instructed faculty members to make course materials available to students who miss classes because of COVID-19 infection or exposure, but the Law Center has not mandated a virtual attendance option, according to William Treanor, dean of Georgetown Law.
“Faculty members are prepared to make course materials available to students missing classes due ot COVID-19 related isolation or quarantine, or other symptoms and illnesses, based upon course content and pedagogy,” Treanor wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The Law Center has worked with public health experts to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as changing the ventilation system, mandating masks and vaccines and implementing a system for testing, contact tracing and quarantine, according to Treanor.
The most important priority for all law students who are parents is the health of their families, and that health should not be compromised for in-person learning, according to Hudspith.
“The real concern is not so much myself, it’s actually the unvaccinated kid I have and the university is not allowing that to be taken into consideration at all,” Hudspith said.