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FAQ: COVID-19 for MSW Students about Field Instruction

UIC and Jane Addams College of Social Work (JACSW) are deeply concerned about our students, faculty, and staff, as well as their families and communities; thus, we are committed to supporting their health, safety, and well-being. It was due to our concern and commitment that we have worked to identify how we can support your success in your field instruction courses while also addressing the need for safety. To that end, we are requiring that students and our partner field agencies/schools take safety precautions that reflect public health guidelines and recommendations.

As we approach the start of the academic year, the increasing numbers of positive COVID-19 cases around the country are of great concern. We have seen several universities reverse their decision to have in-person classes because of the almost immediate impact of COVID-19 on their student body. Pre-emptively, out of concern that there would be a trend towards worsening versus improvement, we have been proactive in our approach to field instruction and identified what would need to be in place for our students to successfully complete their field placement during this pandemic.

We recognize that some of you may have not received or missed the email containing the “Student Agreement and Acknowledgement of COVID-19 Risks for Field Placement” and have a few questions that you would like answered before signing the Agreement. Thus, we are extending the deadline for the submission of your signed Agreement to August 25, 2020. We have captured our frequently asked questions below and provided answers.

Update: Friday, November 13, 2020

On November 11th Chancellor Amiridis indicated that UIC is requiring all in-person instruction, at all sites, be suspended at the end of this week for the duration of the fall semester. This change does not impact field instruction courses (i.e. field placement) at this time. Students are being reminded to get their flu shot (if they have not already done so), continue to following public health recommended safety protocols and, if needed, to obtain, free on-campus COVID-19 saliva testing. Students who have concerns arising from COVID-19 for themselves or that of a household or family member may opt to engage in remote learning for their field placement, and their field liaison will work with them to implement a remote learning plan. More details are available in the November 13 update on our Coronavirus Updates for MSW Students page.

Question: Why are you asking me to sign the “Student Agreement and Acknowledgement of COVID-19 Risks for Field Placement”?

Answer: JACSW is responsible for providing you with the education needed to earn the Master of Social Work degree. A part of that responsibility is to provide you with the access needed to complete your CSWE required field instruction courses. In addition, it is critical that we do our part to support and increase health and safety practices including sharing the best information available to us from health care experts regarding the precautions you must take while in your field placement to increase your safety. Your signed Agreement indicates your willingness to take those precautions. It also demonstrates your acknowledgment of when and how to access the support of JACSW, should you need to, because your safety or health are being jeopardized in your field placement.

Question: My field placement is fully face-to-face or a hybrid of remote and face-to-face learning. Due to public health guidance, and/or government mandates/recommendations, JACSW has required my field placement to transition to remote learning, how will I earn my field instruction hours? I am worried that I will not be able to meet the graduation requirements.

Answer: As a precaution, your field placement was required to collaborate with the Field Division to ensure that a remote learning plan would be available to you in case such a need would occur. The remote plan was created to ensure that you could continue to meet the course requirements for field instruction regardless of whether you were learning face-to-face or remotely. Your remote learning plan will allow you to meet the field instruction course requirement as well as continue to work successfully towards meeting your hours. Your remote learning experience might also include field learning activities provided by the JACSW field liaisons such as field-related assignments, trainings, and virtual meetings appropriate to your curriculum stage, generalist or specialization.

Question: My field placement is already fully remote. Will a transition to a more restrictive phase impact my field placement experience?

Answer: Because you have been engaging in a remote learning experience, it is unforeseeable that you would be impacted in any way. Should something occur to impact your field placement the Field Division will work with you to identify alternative learning opportunities so that you can continue to meet the course requirements for field instruction.

Question: If I am unable to continue in my field placement due to COVID-19 related circumstances, and I am unable to complete my field instruction course this semester, will I have to pay additional tuition when I to return to complete my class?

Answer: No. If you have been successfully earning your field instruction hours, you will work with your field liaison to terminate your field placement and receive a DF (deferred) grade for field instruction. When you are able to return, you will not pay additional tuition and you will work with the Field Division to complete your hours for the field instruction course you were enrolled in before leaving. You may or may not return to the same field agency/school where you were completing your field placement. However, you will be able to resume your learning experience and continue earning your required field instruction hours. For example, if you earned 100 hours in field instruction before your interruption, when you return you will have 100 fewer hours needed to complete your field instruction course requirements.

Question: I am uncomfortable engaging in field instruction that includes a face-to-face component this semester, what can I do?

Answer: You are not required, nor are we encouraging you, to remain in a field placement where you feel unsafe. You can choose to defer field instruction and continue with only your “classroom-based” learning. You should immediately notify your field instructor that you have decided to, or are considering, not completing field instruction for the semester. If you continue to be interested in deferring, you should speak with your field liaison and discuss your interest in, and reasons for deferring, so that they can provide you with guidance about next steps. If after speaking with your field liaison you still want to pursue a deferment, tell your field liaison of your decision and contact the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Student Services to discuss the creation of an Alternative Plan of Study.

Question: I am enjoying my face-to-face (or hybrid) field placement, but due to the increasing worsening of the pandemic, I am increasingly worried about my health and potential exposure, and I would like to stop going in person. What can I do?

Answer: You should discuss your concerns with your field instructor and field liaison. Your field agency/school has worked with the Field Division to create a remote learning plan. Your field liaison will work with you and your field agency/school to implement your remote learning plan and/or other activities that will allow you to continue successfully meeting the requirements to successfully finish your field instruction course.

Question: The Agreement stated that the suspension, termination, or postponement of my field placement could result in a possible delay of me completing the program’s requirements and subsequently my graduation date. Why is that?

Answer: Field instruction is a class, and like all classes, it must be successfully completed to earn the course’s credit hours. The successful completion of your field instruction courses is not a requirement that JACSW can eliminate; it is a CSWE requirement that must be fulfilled to graduate with an MSW degree. The statement was included in the Agreement to emphasize that fact. It does not indicate that JACSW will not provide opportunities for any student who experiences a suspension or termination of their field placement to meet the degree requirements. If you have opted to postpone the start of your field placement, you have delayed taking a course that is required by JACSW and CSWE. To successfully complete the program’s requirements, you must start and successfully complete your field instruction classes; your field liaison will work with you to identify a field placement once you are ready to begin.

Question: Why would you suspend or terminate my field placement?

Answer: We do not anticipate having to suspend or terminate anyone’s field placement. However, the impact of this pandemic has been unpredictable, so we have tried to think pre-emptively about what rare circumstances might occur and lead to such a decision. Your field placement would be suspended or terminated if: 1) your health and safety have been placed in jeopardy because your field placement did not adhere to their agreement to follow all infection control and protection standards or 2) your field placement is no longer able to meet JACSW’s requirement to engage in remote learning, which was enacted after determining that it was the most appropriate way for you to meet the course requirements while keeping you safe and healthy.

Question: I am worried that if my field placement is suspended or terminated, that I will not meet the hours needed to successfully complete my field instruction class. How will this be handled?

Answer: If your field placement is suspended or terminated due to issues related to COVID-19, the Field Division will work with you to identify alternative ways to meet the required hours necessary to meet the field instruction course requirements. These strategies might include, but are not limited to, field liaisons offering remote field learning activities such as field-related assignments, trainings, and virtual meetings appropriate to your curriculum stage, generalist or specialization, so that you can accrue the additional field education hours needed.Our program meets the CSWE accreditation standards and will continue to do so even if remote learning is implemented.

Question: Do I have to remain in my field placement if I feel that my health or safety are being jeopardized?

Answer: No, you are not expected to remain in a field placement where your health or safety are jeopardized. We are committed to continuing to provide you with the high-quality education and instruction and are equally committed to your health and safety. Should you become concerned, you should immediately inform your field instructor, field liaison, and the Director of Field Instruction. They will work with you to determine what steps need to be taken to ensure your safety and health. A response might include transitioning you to a remote learning experience or identifying a new field placement, if your current field placement cannot provide an environment where you can adhere to the recommended guidelines and proactive measures related to COVID-19 issued by public health authorities and government officials.

Question: I am worried that I might have been exposed to, or contracted COVID-19, what should I do?

Answer: If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, whether or not you have been exposed to someone who may have COVID-19, you should stay home, not go to your field placement and promptly report any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 to your field instructor, field liaison, and the Director of Field Instruction. You should also call Student Health Services at (312) 996-2901 for guidance, contact your CampusCare primary care provider, or any other primary care provider you have. For more information you can also refer to the UIC website, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | UIC Today, and the Circle Back to Campus Plan website, for up-to-date campus policies and procedures. For information about what to do, see UIC FAQs.

Question: What is UIC doing to support student’s safety for returning to school this year?

Answer: UIC’s Fall Semester Return to Campus Guidelines, updated August 12, 2020, provides information about the availability of on-Campus COVID-19 Testing. You can also view the UIC Virtual Town Hall which was held for students on August 6, 2020.