law school

Students attending GU Law School feel that they are being forced to decide between attending classes while sick or risk deferring the entire year of law school.

Students at Gonzaga Law School have come forward with concerns over the lack of implemented COVID-19 protocols within the school and the potential threat to students’ health.

On Sept. 20, KHQ News released an article detailing students’ concerns, including the lack of virtual attendance options for those who test positive for COVID-19 and need to quarantine. 

According to sources in the article, students are being forced to decide whether to attend in-person classes while knowingly sick, or risk being unable to complete their required courses.

A petition on Change.org has also sprung up, amassing 466 signatures, demanding GU Law School provide virtual attendance options for students who test positive for COVID-19 and those awaiting test results, as well as explicit measures to ensure proper mask wearing occurs indoors and contact tracing be conducted for those exposed.

“Above all else, the students need clear, consistent communication from the university [regarding] COVID-19 policies, practices and updates,” the petition reads.

According to the GU Law School Student Handbook, students are required to attend at least 80% of classes per course, meaning they can miss no more than three weeks of instruction. This rule is enforced either by instructors regularly taking attendance or restricting students from taking their final exam if compliance with the requirement is not met.

“Students are being denied virtual attendance options, thus forcing their hand to attend class in person while infected to maintain their attendance requirements as set forth by the ABA and not be reported when they try to sit for the bar exam,” the petition said. “Students who have been in direct contact, such as sitting next to someone with a positive case, have not been contact-traced or notified by the school.”

In the KHQ article, first-year law student Jackie Stone said that not all professors offer Zoom as an option, and those who do are not counting Zoom as class attendance.

The Gonzaga Bulletin arranged a meeting with Dean of GU Law Jacob Rooksby, which was later canceled when Chantell Cosner, marketing and brand manager for GU Law School, sent Rooksby’s written responses to The Gonzaga Bulletin's questions that were sent ahead of time. 

Rooksby said in the statement that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) K-12 close contact exception applies to the law school and its protocols. 

The standard definition of close contact per the CDC website is any individual 6 or less feet away from a COVID-19 positive person for more than 15 minutes. The exception excludes people who were 3 or more feet away from an infected person from being considered a close contact if both people were properly wearing masks during the entire encounter.

“Per these guidelines, the university does not do classroom-wide notification, nor does being seated near someone during class while masked constitute a 'close contact' that would warrant quarantine,” Rooksby said in the email.

When asked if he knew about students attending classes in person while positive with COVID-19, Dean Rooksby did not confirm nor deny in his response.

“Students who have tested positive for COVID or are awaiting test results while either experiencing symptoms of the disease or having been in close contact with someone who has it should not attend class,” Rooksby said.

The petition also highlights the record number of COVID-19 cases in Spokane hospitals and surrounding counties and says that the American Bar Association allows schools residing in areas with high COVID-19 rates to apply for “extensions to variances of teaching methods,” which would allow GU Law to maintain accreditation while also accommodating virtual attendance options.

GU Law School students were unwilling to speak with the Bulletin for this story because they said they were in fear of retaliation.

Devan Iyomasa is a news editor. Follow her on Twitter @devaniyomasa.