Education

Amid Backlash over Collin College's Mask Policy, COVID Kills Student and Dean

COVID is still killing. The response is still politicized.
COVID is still killing. The response is still politicized. Food and Drug Administration
When a Collin College student and nursing professor died of COVID-19 last year, it sparked outrage among faculty and staff. Then, reports began circulating last week that another student and the dean of nursing had succumbed to the disease.

For nearly a year, Collin College has repeatedly made headlines over a culture war raging behind the scenes. After criticizing the school’s coronavirus policies, several female professors claimed they were let go in violation of their rights to free speech and due process.

Now, as the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant spreads across North Texas, Collin College is preventing its faculty from promoting masks.

Last Thursday, KERA reporter Bill Zeeble said in a tweet that the college had confirmed that Collin College’s dean of nursing, Jane Leach, died from COVID-19 complications. In response, former Collin College history professor Lora Burnett wrote that the school’s president had recently announced another coronavirus death — this time, of a student.


“And faculty are not allowed to mention or encourage masks or vaccinations, per college policy,” Burnett said in the tweet. “It's criminal.”
Days earlier, Collin College history professor Michael Phillips posted a photo of the school’s latest COVID guidelines, which apparently ban faculty from urging students to wear masks.

“We cannot have any written language (signs, syllabus) anywhere requesting/requiring/recommending (verb choice doesn’t matter) masks,” the school wrote in a presentation.

“We also cannot encourage folks to wear them in person. This is to comply with the governor’s executive order,” the presentation continued.
Soon, a campus free speech nonprofit called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) condemned the school’s guidance. In a post on its website, FIRE charged that such a move could be deemed unconstitutional. The organization also appeared to marvel at the school's interpretation of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.

While the order does prohibit schools from instituting such mandates, it also states that Texans are “encouraged” to don face coverings in areas where transmissions are high. Critics argue that faculty who recommend face coverings would just be echoing language used by the governor himself.

“It is disappointing to see colleges and universities use laws banning mandates about conduct as an excuse to ban speech,” FIRE wrote in their post (emphases theirs). “Even if these laws did ban constitutionally protected speech, that would be, well, unconstitutional, and schools would have no authority to enforce them.”

Collin College did not return the Observer’s requests for comment. And while it may have beef with masks, the school is offering "voluntary vaccinations."

Other North Texas colleges are issuing different guidance. The University of Texas at Dallas “strongly encourages” COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to mask-wearing and social distancing.

Late last year, Collin College was slammed for not including a coronavirus dashboard on its website, which many other schools had already done. Then, in November, a nursing professor named Iris Meda died from COVID-19, apparently after contracting it from one of her students.

Many faculty were appalled that Collin College's district president announced Meda’s death in the 22nd paragraph of an email titled “College Update & Happy Thanksgiving!” So far, faculty say their calls to honor Meda at the school have gone unanswered.
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter