What Should You Do if a Student Isn’t Wearing a Mask?
COVID-19 presents us with unique challenges at the University. Faculty have had to learn to teach online. Some people on campus have lost family and friends to the terrible disease. In returning for the fall semester, we must now figure out how to best engage those who might not be wearing a face covering.
At an Aug. 27 panel discussion about de-escalation strategies, three Old Dominion University experts proposed best practices for handling these situations - and ways to avoid turning a routine encounter into something explosive.
The online session was hosted by Annette Finley-Croswhite, director of the Center for Faculty Development.
Yes, face coverings are required inside ODU buildings for all faculty, staff, students and visitors. But there are several reasons that people might not be wearing a mask at a given moment, said ODU Police Chief Rhonda L. Harris.
Some may just forget. Mask wearing has to become a habit, said Harris, who is also assistant vice president for public safety. Their mask might be in a backpack or a pocket.
"They need a soft reminder," she said.
Some students will not have brought a face covering to class. If that's the case, ask them to go out and get one. The Webb Student Center information desk offers masks at no charge. POD Markets, Miller Mart and drugstores sell them.
Some people are out of shape and get winded easily, Harris said. They may remove a mask to aid their breathing. In that event simply ask them to step outside and get some air before they come back wearing a face covering.
The key in all these scenarios is to stay calm and civil, panelists said.
"If I'm really calm, it's going to be hard for you to bounce off of me and get real high," said Professor George Noell, who chairs the Department of Psychology.
That approach is especially important if you meet resistance.
Imagine that someone says, "I won't wear a mask." Or "I don't believe in it." What to do? Stay respectful, Noell said. Be a role model. Ask questions and respond with facts. He offered sample statements, including: "The University rules don't allow us to be in class together without masks for everyone's safety."
Instead of giving orders, give options, such as: "You're either going to have to wear a mask or you're going to have to choose to leave."
Don't raise your voice, said Nancy Badger, director of counseling services. Be aware of your body language and vocal tone, and make sure the person feels heard.
"Do the opposite of your instincts," she said. "Let them know you're not a threat."
But what if the person won't wear a mask, won't leave and starts to become aggressive?
That's the point when you can call the ODU Police Department at 757-683-4000, Harris said.
"If the student doesn't leave, isn't cooperative, we would come and help you get them out of the classroom," she said.
In that situation, it's a good idea for you to dismiss the rest of the class and follow up with them in an email, she said.
Remember that the reason campus police will come is because a student is being disruptive, the chief said. Don't call them just because the student isn't wearing a mask.
In all encounters it's important to keep in mind that students have cellphones and that anything could be recorded. So stay calm, speak clearly, and offer those not wearing masks the opportunity to make good decisions.
Panelists stressed that escalation is unlikely.
"Most people are sane and decent," Noell said. "Most students follow most of the rules most of the time."
It's important to remember that faculty are also expected to wear a face covering when teaching onsite in the classroom. It can be difficult at first to learn to teach with a mask; one can get winded easily. In certain instances, students with disabilities may need to see their professors' mouths in order to follow the lecture. In this case, a clear, plastic shield is permissible in place of a mask, although with the shield faculty should do their best to stay 10 feet away from their students or other persons.
Let's all "Reign Responsibly" and look out for one another's safety.
For those who missed the workshops, a recording can be found on the CFD website under Learning Modules.