Face masks are still required on the campus of Pittsburg State University, and after a policy adjustment, the use of face shields has been given additional guidance.
The University updated its policy on the use of face shields on Aug. 27 after the Center for Disease Control (CDC) released additional guidance on the use of face shields in conjunction with face masks. The CDC currently does not recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for face masks that cover both the mouth and nose and only recommends them in situations where it would be unfeasible due to the activity in question to wear a face mask, such as working with or caring for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, as many of these individuals may rely on lipreading as a communication tool. PSU has codified the use of face shields in place of face masks for similar accommodation reasons.
“We heard from an employee that the CDC guidelines had been updated and so the original policy we put out in June, we went and revised based on that feedback,” said Abigal Fern, chief marketing and communication officer for PSU.
The change in the policy stipulates that face shields are only a replacement for a face mask that covers both the mouth and nose when lecturing in a course to provide accommodation for a student who may rely on seeing the instructor’s mouth to understand content clearly, while lecturing or speaking to a group to support the ability to project audibly better, or for individuals who have received an exemption from the policy on face masks from the Office of Student Accommodations for students or the Office of Institutional Equity for employees and a face shield is determined to be a reasonable accommodation for these individuals.
“Those who were wearing them (face shields alone) were wearing them already for… various reasons,” Fern said. “(For) some, it was a preference. For those that were wearing them as a preference, it (the policy change) probably made the biggest difference, because now they have to document their reasons in place of a mask. If they have a student in their case with a documented disability and they need to be able to read lips, then they would be able to wear a face shield.”
Fern also reiterated that the change was also about formalizing the use of a face shield versus a mask.
“I should say that most people wear masks on our campus,” Fern said. “Those who need to can wear a face shield and now there is a more formal process for making sure they can wear one.”
Fern pointed out that the accommodations related to face shields and face masks are not just related to students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Before we started the semester, we spent the summer evaluating every classroom to make sure we could properly social distance and that we’ve reduced the numbers in each classroom..,” Fern said. “Every one of our classrooms is socially distanced… There were some that needed additional media to amplify voices or to provide projection… Based on the courses that were being taught in those classrooms, we made many of those changes… As the semester progress, students who need additional help or accommodations, we make those changes on the fly.”