Frequently Asked Questions for Teaching in Fall 2021

This page offers a set of frequently asked questions related to the start of the Fall 2021 semester, and is intended for instructors including faculty and teaching assistants.  The Office of the Provost will maintain and update this page with additional information.  Please feel free to send additional questions to [email protected].

September 3, 2021 Additional Questions

These Q&A additions are intended to clarify policies regarding masking, vaccination, testing, and other related protocols, all of which remain in full effect. For more details, see previous messages relating to in-person teaching and learning this fall and Brown’s COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy.

Am I committed to teaching in the modality (fully online, in-person, or in-person and remotely accessible) that I previously submitted?
Yes. Instructors should teach in the modality that was submitted to the Registrar earlier this year. The only exception would be for instructors whose situation has changed in a way that affects their ability to teach a class in the planned modality. In planning the fall semester, we identified a sample of courses in each department that could be remotely accessible to students who, for various reasons (e.g., health, immigration visas), cannot participate in in-person courses this fall. However, those courses have already been identified, and if you were slated to teach in-person, then we expect you to do so. You may contact my office at [email protected] if you have any questions on your teaching modality for the fall semester.

If I am teaching an in-person-only course, what should I do if students are unable to attend class in-person?
We expect that throughout the semester, as in any normal academic year, students may be absent from class for a variety of health and personal reasons, COVID-19-related or otherwise. Instructors teaching in-person-only courses should be flexible and support students with excused absences as they normally would. Students are expected to contact their instructors if they are unable to attend class, and deans in both the College and Student Support Services may provide deans' notes on behalf of students with specific personal or health circumstances that hinder their ability to complete academic work. Instructors may provide support for student absences without deans’ notes but should not ask about underlying health or personal circumstances.

Instructors are not expected to teach additional hybrid or online sections to accommodate individual student absences. Instructors may consider recording lectures, if feasible, or other online learning tools to help students catch up on materials and assignments.

Instructors whose courses were designated to be remotely accessible should teach in a format that supports students studying remotely outside of the Providence area. These formats may also enhance accessibility and support for students in the Providence area who are unable to attend in person. However, notwithstanding the above, instructors may establish reasonable class attendance policies for their courses, including online attendance policies for students studying remotely, and should publish such policies on course websites and syllabi.

Is social distancing required for vaccinated students or faculty when they are indoors?
No. Vaccinated individuals do not need to practice social distancing indoors if they are wearing masks. Unvaccinated students or employees must wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance from others when they are indoors. (Note that these unvaccinated individuals will either have approved exemptions or be in the process of getting vaccinated. They are responsible for abiding by all applicable requirements, including masking and social distancing. Faculty should not ask about the vaccination status of anyone in their classes).

How should I manage a higher than normal density of students during shopping period?
Shopping period should look very similar to how it did before the pandemic. Rooms have been assigned based on projected or capped enrollment numbers, and classroom density will be similar to pre-pandemic levels. As a reminder, vaccinated individuals do not need to practice social distancing indoors if they are wearing masks. All students must be masked indoors, and over 97% of our students are fully vaccinated. We recognize that more students will attend classes during shopping period than will be enrolled, resulting in overflow and high density in some classrooms. If appropriate, instructors should manage attendance for courses as they did before the pandemic. It would be advisable to explain your attendance policy in your syllabus, post your syllabus on [email protected] Brown (via, and publish Canvas websites in advance of the first class so students know how you will manage attendance before the first day of class. Instructors may also manage the density in classrooms by:

  • Recording their first lecture(s) if feasible and posting on Canvas;

  • Asking students on the waitlist to leave the classroom if the density in the classroom exceeds the designated capacity; and

  • Telling students that seats will be reserved for those who register for the course first and that leftover seats may be taken by waitlisted and/or other students to the extent possible.

Instructors should also delay enrollment confirmation until the first class session during the week of September 13th to support students who may be unable to attend classes in the first week due to limited seating, travel-related quarantine, or observation of Rosh Hashanah.

What should I do if I have a personal or family situation that temporarily impacts my ability to teach in-person, like the need to care for a sick or quarantined child at home?
We recognize that instructors may have to handle personal or family situations over the course of the semester. Instructors should exercise their best judgment, even if that means staying home for a short period of time. In the case of a personal or family situation, instructors may consider rescheduling a class, transitioning an individual class session to be remote, or asking a colleague to help with instruction.

How can I request support or access to classroom technology?
Any course designated as “Remote Accessible” has been assigned a hybrid classroom by the University Scheduling Office. If you would like to review your hybrid room, please schedule a Classroom Orientation with Media Services or email [email protected]. Information about hybrid teaching is available here.

Are classrooms still being cleaned through enhanced cleaning protocols?
Yes. Enhanced custodial cleaning will continue in classrooms and common areas during the day and evening. Scheduled custodial cleaning will continue on the overnight shift. You will find containers of disinfection wipes in classrooms and common areas so that individuals using these areas can disinfect before and after use.

General Questions

Is it safe to return to campus?
Yes. The health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff are our top priority. Brown is requiring all faculty, staff, and students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption. Our community has reached a 95% vaccination rate across all populations, and we expect that number to continue increasing as we approach the start of classes. We are also requiring all individuals on campus to wear masks indoors and test regularly at least through the end of September. These requirements, along with our COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy, are based on the most up-to-date science of the novel coronavirus, guidance from governmental authorities, and advice from our own faculty experts. In several ways, our current policies go further than guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help ensure the health and safety of our community.

When should I arrive on campus?
Instructors should return to work in person at a time of their choosing that allows them sufficient time to prepare to teach their courses, advise students, and continue their research. Please remember that you must participate in COVID-19 testing at the OMAC or One Davol testing sites in your first few days on campus. Please visit Verily’s web application to schedule a test.

Teaching and Instruction

Is it safe to teach indoors?
Yes. In light of our high vaccination rates, very low numbers of positive cases, and scientific evidence that suggests a low risk of transmission among vaccinated individuals, we have a high degree of confidence at this time that we can safely return to in-person instruction in assigned classrooms and pre-pandemic density levels.

How should I plan to teach my classes this fall?
Instructors, including teaching assistants, should proceed with their planned instructional modalities as originally proposed and  listed in [email protected]. Instructors who previously proposed and planned online or hybrid instruction for pedagogical reasons may proceed with their instructional methods, and all other instructors who have planned to teach in-person should also continue with their plans for in-person instruction from the start of the semester, including shopping period. You may contact my office at [email protected] if your situation has changed in a way that affects your ability to teach a class in the currently planned modality.

How can I request a microphone or classroom technology for teaching?
Media Services and Digital Learning & Design (DLD) will reach out to instructors soon with guidance on how to request and use classroom technology.  For instructors who have classroom-related questions or would like to request a classroom orientation, please email [email protected] or call 401-863-3600.

Are students and instructors required to wear masks during class?
While Brown continues to require all members of the community to wear masks indoors, fully vaccinated instructors may choose to remove their masks when they are speaking during the course of instruction (though they are not required to do so). Instructors who are teaching classes that require individual students or even groups of students to be unmasked (performing arts or music, for example) should complete this survey, and the Office of the Provost will respond with guidance.

How should I handle student absences related to COVID-19?
Instructors are encouraged to be flexible with their attendance policies for classes to accommodate the effect of public health protocols on student attendance. Some students may not be able to attend individual classes for a variety of reasons — including if they are not feeling well and have symptoms, are in isolation, or are quarantined due to their arrival date or vaccination status. The University continues to encourage students to use their best judgment to help keep themselves, their classmates, and their instructors safe and healthy and to contact University Health Services (401-863-1330, [email protected]) if they are experiencing symptoms.

What should I do if I am symptomatic this semester?
We recognize that instructors may experience cold or flu-like symptoms over the course of the semester. Brown’s policies for symptomatic faculty and graduate student teaching assistants remain the same as they were last year. Faculty should contact their health care provider for guidance and, if advised, seek symptomatic testing for COVID-19 at a convenient testing site. Graduate students should contact University Health Services (401-863-1330, [email protected]) if they are experiencing symptoms to obtain their guidance. Ultimately, instructors must exercise their best judgment, follow their health care providers’ advice, and not come to campus if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, even if that means rescheduling a class, transitioning an individual class session to be remote, or asking a colleague to help with instruction.

What should I do if I have been exposed?
Given current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccinated individuals who have been exposed to individuals with COVID-19 and are not symptomatic do not need to quarantine. Instructors who are asymptomatic and have been exposed should not alter their instructional plans unless advised to do so by their health care provider.

Department Gatherings

Is it safe to hold events and gatherings?
Given our requirements for vaccination, routine testing, and mask wearing, gatherings are allowed for our community to hold indoors or outdoors, either on campus or off campus. Instructors and leaders across campus must comply with the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and mask wearing requirements when hosting gatherings, and we ask that they use their best judgment on the size and location of gatherings

Where can events and gatherings be held?
Individuals and departments may hold gatherings indoors so long as the participants comply with the University’s mask wearing requirement and COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy. However, if possible, we encourage beginning-of-the-year gatherings to be held outside. Outdoor events may make some members of the community more comfortable and willing to participate. Attendees at outdoor events are also not required to wear masks (though they may if they choose to do so), unless they are unvaccinated and social distancing of three feet is not possible.

When is it appropriate to hold events and gatherings?
Individuals and departments are encouraged to schedule gatherings at times that are appropriate and convenient for the attendees.  Given that we are expecting a staggered arrival of students, staff, and faculty to campus over the coming month, it is important to understand when attendees will be back on campus.  Also, some international students will be completing their vaccinations when they arrive on campus and may not want to attend events until 14 days after their final dose of the vaccine.  Please exercise judgment when scheduling events based on what you know about the intended audiences.

Who can attend gatherings and events?
Gatherings must abide by the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and the guidance for visitors and guests that was recently announced by Russell Carey, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy.  Family members, for example, can be invited and likely will be considered limited-duration visitors, assuming they only visit campus three days or less each month. Limited-duration visitors do not need to report their vaccinations to the University and do not need to be a part of the routine testing program, but do need to follow the COVID-19 Campus Safety Policy and, if they are unvaccinated, wear masks at all times.

Are food and beverages allowed at gatherings, classes, or meetings?
Attendees are welcome to eat or drink and organizers are permitted to provide food and beverages at events this fall, including receptions, classes, meetings, and start-of-year gatherings.  For indoor events, attendees should remain masked when they are not eating or drinking.