COVID-19 updates from the School of Social Work
MAY 1, 2020
Dean’s communication about Fall semester
Dear Social Work students,
As the end of this incredibly challenging semester nears, I am sure you are feeling some relief, and for those who are graduating, a sense of elation! Continuing students, you may also be wondering about what happens next with your social work education. For those of you who plan to take social work courses this summer, we have developed remote or online learning options for you. In addition, the Office of Field Education has been working tirelessly to ensure that you will have remote learning experiences that meet our educational requirements.
As President Rao indicated in his message to the VCU community this week, the University is planning for a return to campus this fall, but will likely do so in a phased manner to maximize all of our safety. In the School of Social Work, this means that we are planning for on-campus classes for our B.S.W., on-campus M.S.W., and Ph.D. students, but we are also preparing for the need to pivot quickly to hybrid or online format if the need arises. The changes that we needed to make this semester were very abrupt and disruptive for all of us, and we would prefer to take a long view, which means planning for the most extreme scenario while remaining optimistic about the best-case scenario. For those of you who are in the Online M.S.W. format, it is unlikely that there will be major changes to your courses, which have been intentionally designed with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning.
For those B.S.W. and M.S.W. students whose curriculum plan includes field education in the fall, we are proceeding with plans to match students to agency placements, while also devising alternative scenarios in the event that you are not able to be onsite in an agency in the fall. We will communicate with you about these alternative options, should they be needed, when we have more information about the University’s plans and the evolving public health context related to COVID-19.
We look forward to seeing you in person when it is safe to be together. In the meantime, congratulations to all of our graduates! I hope all of you will join our faculty, staff, and alumni in cheering on the graduating members of your VCU SSW Ramily during our virtual commencement ceremony, via Facebook Livestream, on Friday, May 8, at 11 a.m.
With continued best wishes for your health and safety,
APRIL 7, 2020
Dean’s communication on alternative commencement, student forum and more
Dear Social Work Students,
We in the VCU School of Social Work are thinking of you as the COVID-19 crisis continues and are hopeful that you are safe and coping as well as can be expected under the difficult circumstances. I have appreciated the opportunity to hear from some of you by email and in the virtual office hours I held over the past two weeks. Based on the issues and concerns raised by those who have been in touch with me, I want to provide a few updates:
Alternative SSW Commencement
The School of Social Work is planning a virtual commencement ceremony, to be held at the previously scheduled time (May 8, 11 a.m.). Please watch for a separate email invitation from us this week that will provide details on how you can participate.
Student Forum on Racism and Anti-Blackness in the SSW
Earlier in the semester, we indicated that we intended to plan a listening session for students to inform us about your experiences of racism (and particularly anti-black racism) in the School of Social Work. We have decided to move ahead with this plan in virtual format and will send out an invitation soon with specific details on two possible Zoom sessions for you to attend if you wish.
As I indicated to you last week, all School of Social Work courses will be taught online during summer 2020. You received an email from Provost Hackett last week that VCU Summer 2020 instruction would be remote or online for courses starting before July and in person for courses beginning after July. Therefore, I want to reiterate and clarify that for the SSW, all Summer 2020 courses will be taught in an online or remote format. No SSW classes will be held on campus until Fall 2020.
Summer Field Instruction
For those students whose curriculum plans involve Summer 2020 field education courses, you will be hearing from either the Field Office or the Online Program Coordinator regarding those arrangements this week, if you have not heard from them already.
SSW Exceptions to Academic Policies
As previously indicated, VCU is allowing students to exercise Pass/Fail grading options this semester. The SSW has, in addition, created temporary exceptions to some of our academic policies to ensure that selection of pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory/fail does not place students in academic jeopardy. These exceptions are summarized here (PDF).
In closing, I want to remind you that our faculty, OSS advisors, and administrators are here for you and are committed to helping you to pursue your dreams of becoming professional social workers. Even as we acknowledge our own anxieties and fears about the pandemic, we are buoyed by the realization that you, our students, will someday be serving others, upholding their worth and human dignity, and advancing our professional call to fight for social justice as we move forward together from this crisis.
MARCH 31, 2020
Dean’s communication finalizing alternate grading options, online summer instruction, field hour reductions
Dear Social Work Students,
I hope you are doing well under the circumstances. Monday, the governor of Virginia announced a stay-at-home order that will extend until June 10, 2020. The school has been working to plan for these contingencies and adjust our course requirements in light of the evolving crisis situation. The most recent decisions are summarized below and in this set of FAQ.
I will provide additional virtual office hours this week to allow you an opportunity to discuss these changes and any other concerns. Sign up below:
We recognize how profoundly the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your personal, professional, social, and academic lives. It is understandable that many of you may be stressed and anxious, especially if you are managing caregiving and other responsibilities in addition to your student workload.
As the crisis has evolved, we have been working to adjust how our course requirements can be satisfied to accommodate this hardship, while operating within school, university, professional, and accreditation guidelines, as well as satisfying degree requirements.
Please read each section carefully.
1. Pass/Fail and Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory/Fail guidelines
By now you should have received information from the University regarding alternative grading options for this semester. These options permit you to select pass/fail type grading options for any given course up until May 15. For your reference, information about these options is archived here. We strongly encourage consulting with your OSS adviser about whether exercising this option would be beneficial to your situation.
2. Summer 2020 Instruction
All courses offered by the School of Social Work during Summer Session 2020 will be in remote or online format. No classes will take place face-to-face on campus. Students whose curriculum plan requires them to take Field Instruction for Summer 2020 will receive specific messaging regarding the summer term in the coming week.
3. Field Hour Reductions
In response to the COVOD-19 pandemic, last week, our accrediting body, the Council of Social Work Education, issued temporary guidelines for the number of field hours required to earn social work degrees. Current CSWE accreditation standards require a minimum of 400 hours of field education for B.S.W. programs and a minimum of 900 hours for M.S.W. programs.
The temporary guidelines approved by CSWE, allows students who have completed 85% of the CSWE-required field education minimum hours (i.e., 340 hours for B.S.W. programs and 765 hours for M.S.W. programs) to a satisfactory level, at the school’s discretion, to be evaluated as having satisfied the field hours required for graduation. This reduction is only available to those students who will have completed all field hours required for their respective degree by December 31, 2020.
This reduction is essentially available for all May, August, and December 2020 graduates, as well as those students who will graduate after December 2020, but who will have completed all 340 hours for the B.S.W. or 765 hours for M.S.W. degree, respectively, by December 31, 2020. Normal course sequencing (pre- and co-requisites) are not affected by CSWE’s reduction in field hours and must still be satisfied as specified in each program’s curriculum. As you may be aware, our School (like many others) normally requires more field hours than CSWE’s minimum. We do this, in part, because of the requirements for clinical licensure (PDF) of the Virginia Social Work Board, which specifies that applicants for the LCSW complete 600 hours during their clinical specialization field practicum. This issue and the additional hours required by our School that are beyond the minimum established by CSWE will be addressed below based on your date of expected graduation or when you will complete all field hours required for your degree.
Please consult with your Office of Student Success academic adviser or your faculty field liaison if you have any questions. Also, please note that as is required when completing any field education course, students must engage in appropriate termination activities with their clients, field instructors, and faculty field liaisons, as well as complete all agreed-upon work for a satisfactory completion of the respective field course. The NASW Code of Ethics reminds us that abrupt termination is to be avoided whenever possible, and we recognize that during the COVID-19 crisis, our agency partners may be relying on assistance from students who are engaged in remote tasks. Students should work with their liaisons and field instructors to determine what approach would work best for an appropriate termination with the field agency, particularly if the student intern is engaged in working directly with clients. Students may end placements only when professional termination of tasks and client work is completed and/or transferred back to the agency even if the minimum hours have already been met.
Students graduating this May:
All B.S.W. and M.S.W. (regular and advanced standing) students currently enrolled in their last semester of field education have now reached a minimum of 85% of the CSWE-required hours and are considered to have fulfilled the field education requirements for graduation if they are evaluated by their faculty field liaison to have done so satisfactorily. Field hours to be counted for B.S.W. students include all those completed in the junior and senior field courses. Field hours to be counted for M.S.W. students include all those completed in the generalist and specialization field courses.
These students may discontinue their participation in field education once they have properly terminated with their clients, field instructors, and faculty field liaisons.
M.S.W. students who plan to pursue clinical licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia need to present a total of 600 hours of clinical field education and 3,000 hours of clinical social work practice post-master’s degree for licensure eligibility. The balance of clinical field education hours below 600 will need to be added to the 3,000 hours of clinical social work practice for licensure eligibility. For example, under the reduced hours, a student who completes only 500 hours of clinical field education, will have to complete 3,100 hours of post-master’s clinical social work practice. For more information about this, please consult the Virginia Department of Health
Professions Board of Social Work Licensure Process handbook (PDF).
Students who will graduate or complete all field hours required by their degree by August or December 2020:
B.S.W. and M.S.W. students who will graduate or complete all field hours required by their respective degree by December 31, 2020, may complete the CSWE-approved reduction of field hours: a total of 340 hours for B.S.W. and 765 hours for M.S.W. students, respectively. Field hours to be counted for B.S.W. students include all those completed in the junior and senior field courses. Field hours to be counted for M.S.W. students include all those completed in the generalist and specialization field courses. These students may end this semester’s field placement once they have completed the required number of hours satisfactorily and properly terminated with their clients, field instructors, and faculty field liaisons.
The same caveat exists as above exists for MSW students who plan to pursue clinical licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Students currently enrolled and graduating after December 2020 or those M.S.W. students who will begin enrollment in the program summer 2020 term:
To accommodate the current COVID-19 impact on students and enable you to end field placements early following appropriate termination activities, we will reduce the required field hours for B.S.W. and M.S.W. students below the usual minimum required by our School. We anticipate that field placements for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 will resume as usual, with the standard numbers of field hours expected. Therefore, M.S.W. students pursuing clinical licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be able to satisfy the 600 hours of clinical field education required for licensure eligibility during the specialization placement.
Students who enroll in the B.S.W. or M.S.W. program on or after the Fall 2020 semester:
All B.S.W. and M.S.W. students enrolling in their respective programs on or after the Fall 2020 semester will be required to complete the minimum number of hours currently required by our School. The 85% CSWE-approved reduction and the school’s reduction of its own minimum field hour requirements to accommodate the COVID-19 crisis will not apply to these cohorts of students. Because their field instruction will proceed as normal, M.S.W. students pursuing clinical licensure in the Commonwealth of Virginia will have satisfied the 600 hours of clinical field education required for licensure eligibility.
The FAQ document has been provided for your reference. Additional questions may be directed to OSS advisers (for questions regarding Pass/Fail options), the appropriate program director (for questions regarding summer courses) or to your field liaison or the Office of Field Education (for questions regarding field hour reductions).
With best wishes for your health and safety,
MARCH 26, 2020
Dean’s communication on grading policies, summer courses and field hours
Dear Social Work Students,
I hope your week is going well in spite of the ongoing changes and disruption to your personal and educational lives.
A number of you have contacted me, other administrators, and faculty with questions and concerns about how COVID-19 will impact the School’s grading policies and whether the School intends to make changes to field hour requirements and summer course offerings. This message is to let you know that the School is actively engaged in planning efforts related to these issues, but our actions must be coordinated with both University-level decisions and Council on Social Work Education guidance. Therefore, we have not yet finalized all of the details. We anticipate communicating with you no later than the end of the day, Monday, March 30, with specific information related to:
- Pass/Fail grading options for Spring 2020
- Plans for Summer 2020 course delivery
- Field hour adjustments
You are always welcome to contact the School with questions and concerns, and I welcome your attendance at my virtual office hours tomorrow at noon so that you can bring up issues that are on your minds. For specific guidance on the issues listed above, however, we ask you to wait for our message to the entire School community. Thanks in advance for your patience.
MARCH 21, 2020
Dean’s communication on commencement, building access and virtual office hours
Dear Social Work Students,
I’m writing with a few brief updates on the evolving COVID-19 situation and its impact on the University and our School.
As President Rao’s recent message indicated, the University has made the difficult decision to cancel all commencement ceremonies this semester, including our School ceremony May 8. We know how disappointing this is to those of you who will be graduating this semester. If you wish to return to VCU to take part in the university-wide commencement exercises that will be held in December 2020, we encourage you to do so. In the meantime, we are working to figure out some way to celebrate your accomplishments virtually, and will keep you posted on that.
Beginning Monday, March 23, all of the faculty and staff in the SSW will be working remotely, and our campus home, the Academic Learning Commons, will be closed. You will not be able to enter the building at all until at least April 15. You’ll find here a list of offices with contact information so that you know how to reach out with questions and concerns.
Beginning Monday, on-campus classes will resume remotely, and classes that were already in online format will resume as usual. By now you all should have heard from your instructors, and they have been working hard to adjust syllabi and course expectations to make the rest of the semester manageable. It has been a challenging time, and we all know that many of you may be feeling frightened and isolated. We are all here to help! Please continue to stay connected to each other, to your course instructors and field liaisons, and to your OSS advisers.
In addition, I will be offering open Dean’s virtual group office hours several times this week if you’d like to check in and let me know your concerns about COVID-19, or any other issues that are on your mind. To sign up, please select the date you prefer (options below), and a private Zoom link will be emailed to you:
In a message today, President Rao reminds students “to think and act in ways that benefit the community of which you are a part” and to limit social interactions to protect yourself and others.
Please be aware of these additional announcements from VCU:
- Not sure of symptoms? COVID-19 symptoms are generally flu-like but may include even mild symptoms such as subjective fever (chills, body aches, malaise), documented fever (even low-grade), and cold symptoms including cough, runny nose, or congestion, or any nausea or gastrointestinal symptoms. More information.
- Emergency funding for students: VCU is committed to strengthening its support of students who have been impacted by COVID-19 and need additional support. Details.
- Blood drive: VCU Health and the American Red Cross are hosting local blood drives to prevent blood supply shortages for hospital patients. Healthy, eligible individuals are strongly urged to donate blood or platelets during this time. Please consider making an appointment to donate.
- Parking and transportation: Prorated refunds will be issued for all standard student commuter and 24/7 commuter permit holders for the remaining months in the spring 2020 semester. Commuter permit holders will be refunded for April and May 2020, and 24/7 permit holders will be refunded for April, May and June 2020. Details.
- Online learning support: Check out the Keep on Learning site for students.
- Study abroad: Summer 2020 Study Abroad programs have been canceled. Details.
Above all, please exercise compassion toward yourself and others during this trying period. Know that we are here for you and we will get through it together!
With best wishes,
MARCH 17, 2020
Dean’s communication on field placement modifications
Dear Social Work Students,
I hope you are all doing well despite the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 situation. I’m writing with an update on VCU’s guidance regarding field internships for students, both those in our program and across the University.
Dr. Gail Hackett, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, has released updated guidelines for practicums, internships, field placements and clinical placements due to the COVID-19 emergency situation. The new guidelines aim to support the wellness and safety of all members of the VCU Community. In response to this announcement, we have updated instructions for how the School will manage field placements for the remainder of the spring semester.
- All in-person field placements are being suspended until further notice.
- To fulfill any remaining spring semester field hours, students may either engage in remote or telework activities or complete an alternative assignment.
Many of you have already connected with your field instructors and faculty field liaisons to make plans for completing your field hours remotely. If you had been planning to continue going to the field placement site, you should immediately contact your field instructor and faculty field liaison to make plans for completing remaining field hours by teleworking or completing an alternative assignment. They have been advised regarding the evolving situation and stand ready to help develop a plan that will work for you.
We also want to make sure that you have the necessary resources and support for your alternative plan. If there are extenuating circumstances that may impact or limit your ability to complete field hours remotely, please click this link to complete a brief survey, so that we can develop a plan for supporting you in completing your field hours. We are also aware that some of you have made requests to stay in VCU student housing in order to be able to attend field placements in Richmond and the surrounding areas. We hope that for some of you, this change will mean that you have more flexibility regarding your housing options.
We recognize the disappointment and upheaval this crisis has produced in your educational and personal lives this semester, and are committed, despite these obstacles, to helping you to gain the valuable learning experiences you’ll need as you pursue your path to becoming social workers. Because it is National Social Work Month, it is a good time to remind ourselves what an incredibly resilient and creative profession ours is. Crises like the one we are facing reveal the many areas of reform that are so desperately needed: access to affordable, high-quality health care, improved income and housing security, elimination of racism and xenophobia, and harnessing technology to connect our clients and communities with needed services. As we move forward from this pandemic, I am comforted by the thought that you will join the ranks of fellow social workers to join hands in addressing these critical social justice issues.
In the meantime, stay connected to the School and to one another. Your OSS adviser will be reaching out to you soon by text to check in, and we also invite you to contact us – your instructors, the Office of Field Education, and your OSS advising team to let us know how we can help.
MARCH 14, 2020
Dean’s communication regarding alternative class and field arrangements for Spring semester
I’m writing with follow-up clarification regarding the School’s message Thursday regarding arrangements for classes and field for the remainder of the Spring semester. As already noted, on-campus classes will be taught using remote instruction, and if you have not heard from your course instructors already, you will hear from them soon. We have been working with them actively to prepare alternative learning activities that will permit you to complete your classes.
I have heard directly from some of you about concerns you have about returning to field placements. I want to explain our rationale for continuing field placements and discuss options for those of you who need to make alternative arrangements. As you are aware, a minimum number of field hours are required by our accrediting agency, the Council on Social Work Education, in order to complete the B.S.W. and M.S.W. degrees. In addition, those of you planning to seek licensure in Virginia and elsewhere will need to document a minimum number of hours.
That said, we recognize that the rapidly changing picture requires us to be flexible with students in how those hours are completed. The Governor of Virginia has declared a State of Emergency, and we recognize that some field placement agencies have made a decision to close, as have K-12 schools (for at least the next two weeks). Field placements vary in terms of how much risk to COVID-19 virus exposure they present, and some field placement duties can be fulfilled remotely or using telehealth or virtual modalities. In field situations and activities that pose lower risk of transmission, there may be amazing learning opportunities to be gained from learning and supporting our client populations in this time of crisis and uncertainty.
For these reasons, your field liaisons have been instructed to work with you and your field instructors individually to determine the best solution for your situation to enable you to complete the hours required for graduation and licensure. If you have not heard from your liaison already, they will soon be contacting you by email to provide a range of options, which could include continuing in your placement (possibly with remote/telework or other non-in person activities) or discontinuing your placement and completing alternative activities. Your field liaison is your primary point of contact, so reach out to them if you have not heard from them already. The Office of Field Education has been advising the liaisons about possible options, and they are also a resource for you regarding questions and concerns.
It goes without saying that if you yourself are sick or have reason to believe you’ve been exposed directly to the COVID-19 virus, you should not go to your field agency. In that event, your liaison will work with you on a plan for how you will manage the field course for the rest of the semester.
In closing, I want to remind you all how important practicing self-care is at this very challenging time. Exercise compassion with yourselves and with others, and know that the faculty, staff, and administration of the School are here to support you.
MARCH 12, 2020
Dean’s communication regarding COVID-19-related changes
By now you have received yesterday’s message from President Rao regarding VCU’s alterations to the academic calendar, course delivery format, and campus operations. The School has spent much of the week planning for these contingencies, and we recognize that you are now looking for guidance from us about arrangements for your classes and field. I’m writing now to give you an update on what we know now about our plans going forward for the remainder of the semester.
Academic Calendar and Shift to Remote Instruction
As President Rao’s message stated, spring break has been extended for an additional week, March 16-20. This means that no classes will be held next week and instruction for on-campus students will resume via remote access starting March 23, 2020. During the coming week, each of your instructors will be reaching out to you about plans for that particular class, including how remote instruction will be handled.
For online M.S.W. students, spring break has also been extended until March 23, 2020. Stevara Clark, the Online M.S.W. Program Coordinator, will be reaching out to you about any changes that are relevant to your program.
Social work students are expected to resume going to field placement the week of March 23, 2020, in order to complete their field hours for the semester. Before resuming field placement, social work students should contact their field instructor to inquire whether the field agency is operational, so that they can resume going to the field placement.
If the field agency is operational and open to students for field placement, social work students should resume placement activities on the date mutually agreed with their field instructor in order to continue fulfilling field hours. If due to concerns related to COVID-19 the agency is temporarily closed or limiting agency access to core staff, students should immediately consult their faculty field liaison.
In accordance with University guidelines, social work students are not expected to attend field placement the week of March 16-20, 2020. Students interested in going to their field placement during the second week of spring break can do so only if the agency is operational and resuming field placement has been approved by the field instructor.
A primary goal for the University and the School of Social Work is to ensure student safety. You are not expected to attend field placement if you have tested positive for COVID-19 or need to self-quarantine due to exposure to the virus. If this is the case, connect with your faculty field liaison and field instructor to inform them that you are unable to attend field placement for these reasons. Upon recovery, connect with your faculty field liaison to make a plan for fulfilling the remaining field hours. Field placement ends on May 1, 2020; students unable to complete their field hours by this date should consult their faculty field liaison in order to make a plan for completing their field hours.
Student Concerns and Well-Being
We recognize that this is an unprecedented situation that is challenging for all of you, and also recognize that other concerns, such as mental health issues or limited access to food or housing, may be compounded by this crisis. Our understanding is that dining services and RAM Pantry will be available to students on at least a limited basis. You are strongly encouraged to communicate any concerns to your OSS adviser, who may be able to guide you to appropriate resources.
Changes to Upcoming Events
As noted by President Rao, the University is restricting large events and strongly discouraging smaller events because of the risk of COVID-19 spread associated with group gatherings. We will keep you updated via the Student Resource Wire newsletter and this blog.
Please know that your safety and well-being is our highest priority. Your instructors and advisers are here to work with you to manage this unprecedented situation as well as we can.
Program coordinator’s message to online M.S.W. students
You should have received an email from President Rao yesterday and Dean Angell’s email informing you of the extension of Spring Break for another week. This decision was to allow face to face faculty time to adapt their courses for online instruction; however, it does impact our online program. As online students, you will not be required to submit any assignments between now and when classes resume on March 23. You are more than welcome to work ahead with your readings and assignments to keep your learning pace. We recognize the anxiety of the moment; our faculty feel it and so do you. Our goal for you is to focus on what is most important for learning and the promotion of health and wellness. Please be gentle with yourself, and with your instructors.
Also, in light of the extended Spring Break, the synchronous days planned for March 21 and 22 are cancelled. After classes resume on March 23, your faculty instructor may offer an optional Zoom meeting to discuss the content from the Synchronous Class Session. Please note that if you are not able to attend the date that is selected by your faculty instructor, you will not be penalized. If your faculty instructor adjusts assignment due dates, they will communicate with you. These are stressful times for all involved and I hope that you are taking good care of yourselves.
And to emphasize what President Rao said, “Thank you for being mindful and respectful of others during this outbreak, which is not limited to any particular age group, geographic region, nationality, ethnicity or race.” VCU’s COVID-19 site is updated at least once a day and can be accessed from the VCU homepage, the VCU Health homepage, and the VCU Alert page. Please reach out to me if you have any questions.
Online M.S.W. Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor in Teaching
ABSW’s 5th Annual Cultural Awareness Day canceled
The VCU School of Social Work regrets to announce that the VCU student chapter of the Association of Black Social Workers is canceling the 5th Annual Cultural Awareness Day to align with new university policies related to COVID-19. We do not have immediate plans to reschedule the event, but we will keep you all posted as we continue to learn more information about the University’s response to COVID-19.
We want to take this time to thank everyone who scheduled to present at Cultural Awareness Day, and everyone who registered to participate. We appreciate your continued support of the ABSW.
We also want to apologize for any inconvenience in scheduling and travel plans due to this cancellation.
Thank you for your understanding and support.
ABSW at VCU, faculty adviser