Update from the Dean, Remote Classes Until February 1

January 27, 2021 

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Like many of you, I started this week excited to begin the new semester.  I looked forward to seeing those of you who are able to be on campus.  I was thrilled to greet many of you on Monday and to see students in our classrooms – both in person and remotely.  I left school feeling optimistic about our continued ability to provide a flexible hybrid approach to legal education to carry us safely through the final phase of the global pandemic.

Late Monday evening, the law school was informed that a student who was on campus that day tested positive for COVID-19.  News of a positive case is never good, but I was initially comforted that our rules requiring masks and social distance in classrooms and common spaces would prevent spread, as intended, and as they did during the fall semester.  I anticipated that after a brief delay to sanitize and trace possible contacts, we would be able to reopen for in-person learning.

In the course of fact finding, however, the law school learned of an issue that, if not corrected, will affect our ability to offer an in-person learning option, particularly in light of the new highly transmissible strain of COVID that has been detected in the Capital Region.

Here is what we learned: 

Finding false comfort in the fact that they had tested negative for COVID, a group of students, including the student who subsequently received the positive result, had gathered in an enclosed space in the law school, without masks, to study for an extended period of time. 

The gathering exposed each individual to the virus, and raised the possibility that we could have a cluster of infected students. 

For that reason, the law school has directed affected students to isolate off campus for an appropriate time period, and will require a negative PCR test before they return to campus.

The law school also opted to move to remote operations until it could determine that potential spread, if any, has been contained.

From talking with students, we now know that there is some confusion about the need to wear masks and maintain distance in and outside our buildings, especially after receiving a negative test result.  I write today to clarify any remaining ambiguity in the law school rules and safety practices in the time of COVID-19.

  1. A negative test is not a guarantee that an individual remains negative. A person can be exposed to the virus prior to testing positive or at any moment after being tested and receiving a negative result.  We should all assume that any one of us could be positive for the virus at any time and act accordingly. 
  2. Mask wearing and physical distancing are critical safety tools for everyone who intends to work or study on campus.  If you are not willing to wear a mask and maintain distance, whether on or off campus, please work or study remotely.
  3. The law school requires masks and physical distance inside all common spaces, classrooms, and study rooms.  The only exception is in the cafeteria, where individuals may briefly remove a mask to eat, but even then, must maintain physical distance and should remove the mask for as short a period as possible. 
  4.  Physical distance is required whenever possible, even when wearing a mask.  The distance provides a second important layer of protection.
  5. Chairs in classrooms, the library, the cafeteria, and study rooms should not be moved.  Our facilities staff has worked hard to ensure that chairs are separated to maintain distance and keep everyone safe.

This latest incident was unfortunate.  With adherence to masking and distance guidelines, the law school can maintain safe in-person operations just as we did together last fall. 

Everything changes when community members who use campus facilities take unnecessary risks.  As a community, we need to recommit to safe practices.

I say all this knowing how strongly many of us miss being together, in person, without masks or other safety precautions.  This has been a long, difficult time.  But the reality is that adhering to safety precautions is exactly the thing that will allow those of us who want to work or study at Albany Law School to do so while we all await widespread vaccination.  Failing to remain vigilant could result in long periods of remote operations.

Although we are now confident that we have done everything we can do to mitigate the risk from this particular incident, we will be more confident in our ability to bring large numbers of students and employees back into the law school buildings after a further pause.  We are currently tracking how many, if any, exposed individuals test positive this week.  For that reason, the law school will continue with mostly remote operations until next Monday, February 1.  

Individuals with assigned workstations and offices, including individuals studying for the bar exam in the 2000 Building, may enter law school buildings and use their work stations.  So long as there is no evidence of further transmission of the virus by Friday, the law school will open the library for use over the weekend.

To better days ahead,

Alicia Ouellette
President and Dean