Two Oklahoma law school students allege that some of their professors are refusing to provide “reasonable accommodations” for virtual learning amid the university’s two-week mask mandate, according to emails obtained by the Daily Caller.
The University of Oklahoma instituted a temporary mask mandate for the “first two weeks of the Spring 2022 semester” in classroom settings, according to an email from the university. Law students Alyssa Amundsen and Shelbi Kohler told the Daily Caller that they were denied access to their classrooms and threatened by professors after they requested to attend classes virtually until Jan. 31.
“Shelbi and I decided to respectfully email our professors to put them on notice that we would not be masking and ask for their preference of zoom, in person, assigned distance seating, etc,” Amundsen said.
The duo said they sent their professors notices as they did not want to appear “confrontational.” Amundsen and Kohler said the university implemented a mask mandate for the fall semester, though it was not strictly enforced.
Amundsen said several professors were accommodating of her request to attend virtual classes until the end of the mask mandate, as they already implemented Zoom alternatives for students with COVID-19. Associate professor Guha Krishnamurthi told Amundsen and Kohler that he would accommodate their request, according to an email exchange.
“Each class is recorded, please watch the class recording,” Krishnamurthi said. “You will not be recorded as absent for watching the class recording.”
Other professors were far less accommodating, according to written correspondence submitted by the duo. Amundsen told the Daily Caller that she sent a notice to Professor Steven Cleveland that she would not wear a mask in class, and alleges that the professor waited until the classroom was filled to publicly shame her by name for not wearing a mask.
Amundsen claims that she was allowed to sit maskless in the classroom on the first day. After class, Cleveland told Amundsen that virtual learning is “not an option” and threatened to “report [her] to the law school administration.”
Amundsen told the Daily Caller that Cleveland’s syllabus offers virtual learning for any “COVID-related absence[s].” The law student claims that her medical exemption for masking — which is not approved by the university — makes her eligible for Cleveland’s COVID-19 carveout. University leadership allegedly told Amundsen that regardless of a doctor’s note, professors can ultimately decide masking preferences for their students.
“I would argue that anything mask-related is COVID-related,” Amundsen told the Daily Caller. “I actually have a medical note, but the [school] will not approve it. However, the dean informed me that even with the doctor’s note, the professor could decide if they would allow me to attend by zoom or not.”
The professor argued that the Zoom option is available only to sick students, and not students who fail to comply with the university’s mask mandates.
“If you want to take a principled stand, then you must be prepared to suffer the consequences,” Cleveland responded.
Kohler told the Daily Caller that she was pressured by Professor Donald Bogan into disclosing her vaccination status, though the university does not mandate COVID vaccination. Kohler alleges that Bogan also physically barred her from entering his classroom without a mask and threatened to report her to the law school’s administration. (RELATED: Doctor Suggests Masking Kids Helps Prevent Guilty From Accidentally Killing Their Parents)
Bogan appears to have sent a note to all students asking them to disclose their vaccination status.
“I also note that you did not respond to my email to the class asking about your vaccination status, so I assume you are unvaccinated – is that right?” Bogan’s email to Kohler read.
The duo argues that masking students “without a reasonable alternative” is a violation of SB 658, which states that absent emergency declarations, mask mandates by public school boards are prohibited. Legal experts disclosed to the Daily Caller that the law is “shoddy” and provides unintended carve-outs for professors and universities.
“It is clear that the staff at this university is not interested in protecting the rights of students and their personal health choices,” Amundsen said. “It did not seem unreasonable to me for a teacher who is already streaming the class to allow access to that class to a student.”
Carly Atchison, the communications director for Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, told the Daily Caller that the Republican Governor finds “one-size-fits-all mandates” to be a restriction on “individual liberties.”
“It is troubling that there are still people in power who continue to impose one-size-fits-all mandates and restrict individual liberties,” Atchison said. “Governor Stitt believes firmly in providing medical, religious, and personal exemptions to mask mandates and will always stand behind Oklahomans’ right to make health care decisions for themselves.”
The University of Oklahoma told the Daily Caller that accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis.
“All accommodation decisions are made on a case-by-case basis after considering each individual’s circumstance and in accordance with all applicable laws,” a spokesperson said. “Once a request has been approved, instructors are responsible for providing a student’s reasonable accommodation.”
Professors Steven Cleveland and Donald Bogan did not respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.