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Mixed approach by handful of Canadian law schools

Monday, August 30, 2021 @ 1:38 PM | By Terry Davidson

Law schools in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick will be adhering to vaccine policies recently rolled out by their respective universities, while Manitoba’s law school will continue virtual learning for the upcoming fall term.  

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, home to the Schulich School of Law, wants students, faculty and staff to complete a survey detailing their “vaccination plans and actions.”

These institutions are among others all across Canada gearing up for a 2021 fall term in a world that continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its variants. Different schools are taking different approaches, but if there is one common thread, it is that they continue to adjust their plans to shifting public-health guidelines and growing rates of vaccination.  

The University of Saskatchewan, home to its College of Law, has implemented a vaccine requirement. Starting Sept. 7, USask’s students, faculty and staff will be required to show proof of having received at least one dose of a World Health Organization-approved vaccine before setting foot on campus, according to a COVID-19  return-to-school webpage

Proof of a second dose will be required no later than Oct. 18.

“Individuals who are unable or who are unwilling to get vaccinated will be required to provide regular and frequent negative COVID-19 test results and to submit a daily symptom checklist in order to access our campuses,” states the university.

Martin Phillipson, University of Saskatchewan

Martin Phillipson, University of Saskatchewan

College of Law dean Martin Phillipson said that almost all the law classes will have an “in-person component.” But he also pointed to an abundance of online material produced last year to accommodate online learning.

“Almost every class, they’ll all be meeting with their professor sometime in the week and having some facetime and … in-person activity with the professor,” Phillipson told The Lawyer’s Daily. “Some classes will continue to use some pre-recorded material, and that’s really up to the discretion of the professor. It’s what works for them. Some will go back to the old method. We’ll be all face to face. Other’s will use … some pre-recorded stuff and then face to face instruction, and then a handful will be all online.”

Phillipson was asked about students who are uncomfortable with returning to campus wanting to continue their studies online.

“We can’t do that. We told the students over the summer … that the university considers this semester as a transitional semester, which is why we have some stuff online. … I made it clear to the students … that we will not be providing enough credits online that you can get the credits you need to get through. … The in-person experience is what we’re about.”

USask will continue to require masking in all indoor spaces. Students, faculty and staff are also to wash their hands often and maintain physical distance.

To the east, Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University announced Aug. 19 that it continues “to expect all students, faculty and staff to get fully vaccinated,” and is “exploring vaccination requirements for select potentially higher-risk activities,” including athletics and “residence.”

In the statement, provost and vice-president of academic Frank Harvey said the university will “be asking all students, faculty and staff to complete a short, anonymous survey about their vaccination plans and actions.”

Harvey points out that the university has extended mask usage “in indoor shared spaces currently through September,” and that talks with Nova Scotia Public Health and other stakeholders are ongoing; adjustments to the back-to-school plan will be made as necessary.   

University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law

University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law

University of New Brunswick (UNB) Faculty of Law public engagement officer Ed Bowes confirmed the law school will be adhering to a vaccine policy the university issued on Aug. 20.

On Aug. 20, UNB announced it would have a “mandatory vaccination and testing policy,” but as of Aug. 25 had yet to have details as to dosage deadlines. The notice states students, faculty and staff “will be required to be fully vaccinated with two doses of an approved vaccine.”

“Those who are unvaccinated will be required to participate in regular COVID-19 testing,” the notice states, going on to say that more information will be provided after university officials consult with provincial health officials.

Bowes said most UNB law school classes will be done in person.

“We are going to be going to as much in-person as possible, but … with some smaller class sizes and rules [around] social distancing,” he said. “And everybody will be required — and this comes from the top, down at UNB — to wear masks … inside buildings and, basically, all around campus.”

As of Aug. 18, UNB was stating on its website that its fall 2021 semester “will resemble a traditional UNB experience with in-person classes, activities and events taking place on our campuses.” It points to the province moving to a “green health alert level” back on July 30.

As for New Brunswick’s Université de Moncton, it recently announced that it will be making it mandatory for students, staff and faculty on all three of its campuses to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 15 — lest they want to be subject to “frequent rapid tests.”

A spokesperson confirmed this would apply to all faculties, including the law school.

“The vast majority of people currently infected with COVID-19 in the province are those who are not fully vaccinated,” said president Dr. Denis Prud’homme. “That’s proof that vaccination works. It is therefore to protect the members of our university community, as well as the children, seniors and immunosuppressed people we all interact with, that we must participate in the collective effort to achieve a very high vaccination rate.”

As for the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall, a spokesperson confirmed the law school will stay with all virtual learning for the fall semester, even though the university has issued a vaccination requirement.

“As many of you know, Manitoba entered, and exited, the third wave of the pandemic later than other provinces,” said Dr. Virginia Torrie, associate dean of the juris doctor program, in an e-mail to students, which was included in a statement. “The University of Manitoba has also taken a more deliberative and conservative approach to making decisions about in-person/remote learning for the 2021-2022 academic year, and this meant a decision was not reached about the fall 2021 term until midsummer.”

According to an Aug. 13 notice from the faculty of law, the university “aspires for an in-person winter 2022 term.” But the university warns that this could change, depending on the public health situation.

As for the rest of the university, a spokesperson confirmed it is “initiating a phased reopening” for the upcoming term.

“We are planning for an increase of in-person instruction with the continued need for the remote delivery of large classes. Classes with a proposed maximum registration of between 2-20 students may be considered for in-person classes, as determined by the various academic units. This class size limitation will allow [the university] to ensure the required physical distancing throughout our learning spaces. Labs will be limited to no more than 25, or to the COVID room-capacity limit, whichever is smaller.”

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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