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Frequently Asked Questions

As we move through the academic year, we will update this page with frequently asked questions providing information on academic instruction. 

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COVID-19 Safety Guidelines

Will instructors be informed if a student in their class tests positive? How so?

  • Should a student attending an in-person class test positive for COVID-19, the San Luis Obispo County Department of Public Health (SLOPH) will notify the instructor and other enrolled students if their contact tracing determines there is a risk of exposure. However, medical privacy laws prevent SLOPH or Cal Poly from sharing the health-related details of an individual student.
  • Specifically, a contact tracer with SLOPH will notify anyone who had been in close contact (i.e., anyone who has been within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with the student while they were contagious.
  • SLOPH may request that Cal Poly notify the instructor and other enrolled students who may have been exposed.
  • SLOPH may issue quarantine orders for the instructor or individual students, suspend in-person operations of the course for a 14-day period, and/or advise self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms for all involved. SLOPH may also recommend follow-up testing for all individuals, including the instructor, that are in the course.
  • The student who tests positive will be directed to isolate, either at their off-campus residence or at isolation facilities on the Cal Poly campus and their Qualtrics daily screening pass will default to a red “x” for the period of recovery and viral shed as determined by SLOPH. 
  • Should a student with a red “x” try to attend your course, please notify the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities immediately at
  • A red “x” does not necessarily mean the student has tested positive for COVID-19, but it does mean that they should not be attending class.

As an instructor, what should I do if I am informed a student in my in-person class has tested positive?

  • The San Luis Obispo County of Public Health (SLOPH) will notify the instructor and the other enrolled students in the class if they determine there is a risk of exposure through their contact tracing process. Cal Poly may also make this notification on the behalf of SLOPH. If you are notified, please follow the instructions that will be provided by SLOPH.
  • A student that tests positive and is in isolation will have the responsibility to reach out to their instructors for accommodations, as will any students directed to quarantine by SLOPH.
  • The instructor should follow their standard practice to accommodate students with medical absences during the term and determine if and how they can provide alternate assignments for the students.  If the student is unable to continue to do the academic work and complete it by the end of the term, the instructor may award an Incomplete grade until the student is able to complete the course, and at that time process a change of grade request to the assigned grade.  The description of when an Incomplete can be used is included below. (An Incomplete signifies that a portion of required coursework has not been completed and evaluated in the prescribed time period due to unforeseen but fully justified reasons and that there is still a possibility of earning credit.)

If a student informs their instructor that they missed a class or assignment due to losing access to university resources for not complying with ongoing testing requirements, should the instructor allow make-up work, excuse the absence, etc.?

  • Instructors have the discretion whether or not to allow students in their classes to make up work due to absences and/or missed assignments. This discretion also applies to absences and/or missed assignments caused by a loss of university resources due to testing non-compliance. 
  • Students not in compliance with required testing will receive multiple warnings before access is denied and should be encouraged to speak to a professor in advance. 
  • Instructors are encouraged to reiterate the students’ responsibilities to adhere to the university’s testing policies and other COVID-19 safety guidelines. Sample syllabus statements on these guidelines may be found at

If a student tries to attend a class without a campus pass or is not following safety regulations, what should an instructor do?

  • If a single student is causing a disruption in class or not following safety regulations, an instructor may ask the student to leave the classroom. The instructor should make a report to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities as well.
  • If the student refuses to leave class, the instructor may dismiss the entire class for the day.
  • Faculty always have the authority to dismiss the class for a day when they determine there is a safety concern or significant risk of harm.  If they decide to dismiss a class for safety reasons, they should immediately notify and seek advice from their department chair/head. If the chair/head cannot help them fully resolve the issue, they should work with the dean’s office and other appropriate campus offices to develop a course of action to avoid or prevent additional such situations.

Can instructors ask students for a doctor’s note to prove they tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine?

  • Should a student inform their instructor that they’ve tested positive or are in quarantine, we ask that the instructor please take them at their word ​and keep this information confidential. Having to show proof may be challenging during an already taxing time for them. ​
  • If an instructor feels that the student needs to show proof of their status, the instructor may consider asking to see a screenshot of their daily self-screen. All students taking in-person courses are required to complete this self-screen. If they have a digital pass with a RED “x”, that indicates they are not permitted to enter campus that day and have follow-up actions that need to be completed.
  • Due to the increased administrative and clinical demands on Cal Poly’s Health Center at this time, they are currently unable to provide doctor’s notes.

What is Cal Poly doing to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in in-person courses and labs?

  • Cal Poly follows the State of California guidelines for higher education with physical distancing between seating/desks, required face coverings, and any additional precautions that may be needed depending on the nature of the course.
  • Students were required to complete online safety training prior to the start of the quarter.
  • Students who are living on campus, taking classes and/or doing any activity on campus were required to show a negative COVID test upon arrival.
  • Students must complete and pass daily health screenings to receive an access pass to attend in-person classes/labs.
  • PPE and physical distancing are required; PPE was provided free of charge to all students, faculty, and staff.
  • Clear barriers were installed between workstations where appropriate.
  • Rooms are sanitized between classes/labs.
  • Sanitizer stations have been installed in classrooms and buildings where classes are being held.

What training have instructors been given to help students wear proper PPE and to hold them accountable if they don’t follow COVID-19 safety protocols?

  • All Cal Poly faculty and staff were encouraged to complete online COVID-19 safety training that is similar to the training that was required for students.
  • Our division and the faculty union have also worked closely together to ensure that faculty members are following the COVID-19 safety guidelines.
  • In addition, an email sent to faculty and staff on Sept. 10 included information on the process for holding students accountable. 
  • There is information on PPE use at and a link for reporting a COVID-19 incident available at (report an incident).

For students who are “commuting” to the in-person labs, do they need a COVID-19 test before each meeting? I.e. driving from the Bay area.

  • Per a Cal Poly Presidential Order, students who meet any one or more of the criteria below are required to participate in the ongoing twice-per-week testing program.
    • Lives in university housing
    • Is enrolled in in-person classes
    • Works on campus
    • Participates in research on campus
    • Uses any on-campus service (except the Health Center)
    • Lives in the same household or congregate living facility (meaning a group housing facility, such as a dormitory or fraternity/sorority house) with a Cal Poly student who meets any of the criteria listed above.
  • More information on the order and the exemption process may be found at
  • More information on student testing may be found at  

How are the student athletes and musicians being tested?

  • Student athletes have been surveillance tested since August, with specific scheduled testing times on a routine basis. Mustang Band members are tested with the same requirements as students who come to campus for any reason, with two required tests per week.

What kind of response is happening on campus to encourage students to follow safe COVID-19 practices and guidelines?

  • The Public Health Liaisons are a team of student employees within Campus Health & Wellbeing who support a safe, informed, and positive Cal Poly campus community through an in-person peer-to-peer education and outreach model for COVID-19 prevention and response. 
  • The Public Health Liaisons are stationed at high-traffic areas around campus, including at asymptomatic testing sites, and will hand out free face coverings and mini hand sanitizers. Public Health Liaisons also will serve as resource referrals while role modeling safe COVID-19 practices. While the Public Health Liaisons will promote healthy habits and remind students of their shared community responsibility, they will remain focused on positive reinforcement, not policy enforcement.

Who can I contact if I know of an area where several students congregate and could use encouragement to maintain safe practices?

General Course Questions 

Are special equipment and supplies required for some courses?

  • Many labs at Cal Poly require students to purchase supplies or kits that include components and expendable materials. Depending on the department, this equipment may also be provided at no cost to the student. These fees are typically equal to or less than the cost of a textbook associated with lecture-format courses.  The departments have worked to include additional items that allow students to perform lab-based tasks at home and have distributed the cost of more expensive items that will be used across multiple labs to maintain an overall cost of lab materials close to that of a typical lecture course. 

What makes an in-person class essential? Departments put forward which classes they believe need to be offered in person, but is there an overriding set of principles?

  • All of our in-person courses had to follow the policies and considerations as set forth by the California Department of Public Health and the California State University (CSU).
  • The CSU Chancellor granted exemptions to allow courses to be offered in person based on space or specialized equipment requirements, external mandates, and/or pedagogical needs (e.g., learning outcomes that cannot be met by adjusting pedagogy, appropriate replacement for use of specialized equipment cannot be found, accreditation requirements, potential loss of grant funding, issues that are unique to certain academic programs, etc.).
  • The university consulted with its own and local public health officials on the courses that were proposed to be in person before sending these courses to the CSU.
  • Every in-person course was heavily scrutinized by the Chancellor’s Office before being approved.

Some sessions of an in-person class will be remotely taught. Is this allowed and how can that be made clear to students?

  • Instructors do have the right to have remotely taught sessions in their in-person courses. We ask that you please communicate the timing of these remote sessions to your students as far in advance as possible and include this information in your syllabus for review on the first day of class.
  • We are working to ensure that course details such as remote sessions of in-person courses can be communicated through our registration system. Please share such plans with your department so they can be factored in to planning.

Is there a campuswide policy that all promised in-person classes are also available online?

  • No. Some courses have been determined to only be effective in an in-person format and are not open for virtual enrollment. However, if students cannot attend a class in-person, we work with them on an individual basis to find alternative solutions that keep them on track for graduation.

How can faculty be mindful of the challenges many students face when learning from their home as opposed to learning in a classroom?

  • Instructors should be mindful that a classroom on campus can be quite different from a "classroom" in a student's home. Instructors should be aware that when students attend class remotely, they may be in a place where they observe familial, cultural, and/or religious expectations that impact their attire and/or behavior. 
  • Instructors should also be aware that students will have differential access to resources to complete their courses. For example:
    • some students may not have access to consistent spaces to complete work;
    • some may have limited privacy, family obligations, and/or home environments that may limit their in-class participation and may necessitate the turning off of their video;
    • some may be taking classes in the same physical space as roommates or family members that are in different classes at the same meeting time;
    • some may have health issues or living with someone with health issues;
    • some may need assistance with getting the appropriate technology or internet connections to complete their courses;
    • some may have difficulty meeting their basic needs.
  • Instructors should also be mindful of the added stress and trauma that our students may be experiencing in the midst of current social and political issues as well as the stress of isolation during the pandemic.
  • With these differing situations in mind, we ask that instructors be aware of the barriers and stressors that their students ​may be facing during virtual learning​, and do what they can to accommodate students' needs and support their success.

Student Experience

How can freshmen navigate this quarter and make this a more positive experience?

  • Connect with your professors and department head/chair. They are happy to discuss concerns, issues and solutions with you. Contact information is readily available on course syllabi, Canvas learning shells and college/department websites.
  • The Mustang Success Center is the dedicated advising hub for first-year students. It offers great resources and is dedicated to helping students succeed.
  • The Writing and Learning Center offers free peer-to-peer tutoring for students, which can help students make connections and get help with their coursework.
  • Join a club that matches your interests and connect with those students online. Many clubs are meeting virtually weekly or more. Search for clubs at

Is there indoor study space available during winter quarter?

  • While San Luis Obispo County is in purple tier of the state disease transmission framework, the use of indoor study space is not permitted.
  • When public health conditions allow, we will roll out a phased plan for opening indoor study spaces across the campus. Until then, use of outdoor study spaces, weather permitting, is encouraged.

How will the Graduation Writing Requirement (GWR) be offered in a virtual setting?

  • There are 2 ways to complete the GWR requirement (
  • Pass a GWR-certified upper-division course with a C or better on a major writing assignment and a final course grade of C or better with at least 35% of the final grade based on the cumulative grade of all writing projects; OR,
  • Earn a passing score on a GWR portfolio (*Note: the GWR portfolio replaces the Writing Proficiency Exam for academic year 20-21).
  • (The Writing Proficiency Exam that was typically given several times throughout the year is being replaced by the GWR portfolio for the current academic year)

Is there any recourse for students who originally enrolled in an in-person class but now wish to remain entirely virtual?

  • Students could change from an in-person class to a virtual class through the waitlist process the first 4 days of classes or via a permission number during the last 4 days of the add/drop period. Please check with your college for accommodations. In-person classes are not expected to provide the course in-person and virtually simultaneously.
  • If a student was enrolled and attended an in-person class and then became sick or unable to attend for some other reason (e.g., death in family; COVID-19), the situation would be handled just like in a non-pandemic term, either with or without help from the Disability Resource Center (DRC) (students must choose whether to register with the DRC). That is, the course would not necessarily have to be delivered virtually to that student, but some alternative would need to be worked out. It could turn out that the student ends up dropping or withdrawing from such a class if the absence is severe enough or a course substitution could not be identified.

Where can students and/or supporters voice their frustrations about the lack of online synchronous classes available?

  • We understand that parents are anxious and want their students to be successful. Because each individual student’s situations and needs are so unique, we recommend having your student connect with their professors and department head/chair.

Asynchronous Course Delivery

What is the rationale for asynchronous style of teaching?

  • Course delivery through an asynchronous mode is common throughout higher education; this is not unique to Cal Poly or this period of time
  • This modality provides students control over their learning.
    • Students can learn at a pace and time that works best for their personal learning style and work around other commitments.
    • Students can access materials as needed to revisit concepts or lectures.
  • Students without access to certain technologies – laptop computers, webcams, fast internet speed – do not experience the learning disadvantage they might during a synchronous course.
  • Asynchronous courses are scheduled within a framework that still provides for interaction between students and the professor, e.g., usage of online discussion boards, chat rooms, emails, texts or group projects
  • Faculty still maintain close contact with students through scheduled office hours, and also respond to emails and voicemails.
  • Instructors took multiple factors into account when determining which modality to choose:
    • The ability to best serve the most students;
    • The class learning objectives and effectiveness of asynchronous instruction;
    • Their teaching style;
    • The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have included their need to care for their own young children.
  • Instructors will continue to have the option to create and teach asynchronous courses as well as synchronous ones.

Have classes have been changed from synchronous to asynchronous? Why would this be?

  • At the start of the fall quarter, a few courses switched from synchronous to asynchronous largely at the request of students who were experiencing issues with scheduling, time management, or technology, among other reasons.
  • Per the CSU, we were are only able to indicate two modes of virtual instruction in our registration system - synchronous or asynchronous. Any instructors that needed to have at least part of their course occur at a scheduled time needed to use the synchronous mode, even if some part of their course would be delivered asynchronously.
  • At the start of every quarter numerous students experience time conflicts and are forced to choose between one class or another. This quarter, given the predominant use of virtual instruction, many faculty determined that offering asynchronous instruction would help students alleviate time conflicts and help them maintain a full course load.

Study Abroad

Will students be able to study abroad in winter or spring 2021?

  • We have suspended winter and spring 2021 study abroad programs that operate entirely abroad.
  • Given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that the CDC Travel Health Level 3 Warning that remains in effect for most countries in which our students study, this was the best decision to protect the safety and well-being of our students.
  • Winter and spring 2021 study abroad programs or internships that are offered entirely virtually remain available to students. More information is available at

Will there be study abroad opportunities in summer or fall 2021?

  • Study Abroad or international group programs for summer and fall 2021 remain under consideration.
  • The decision to allow in-country experiences will be made in consultation with the CSU Chancellor’s Office, Cal Poly’s Global Health and Safety Committee, and university leadership, while keeping in mind health and safety conditions across the globe.

What types of virtual study abroad experiences are available?

  • Virtual study abroad experiences range from coursework to satisfy major, minor or GE requirements to virtual internship opportunities for credit. Students may take one or more courses to supplement their studies at Cal Poly or participate in an internship with a foreign start-up or local community development organization. 
  • Countries represented include Australia, Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Jordan, China, India, Madagascar, Tanzania, and more.
  • Coursework options are available in a variety of disciplines such as foreign languages, social sciences, health sciences, international business, and more. 
  • Foreign Language options include Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Swahili, Vietnamese, and Quechua.
  • When students take advantage of a virtual study abroad program, they get to take courses taught by experts in their fields, gain international and comparative perspectives, engage with local cultures and communities, and not be bound by location. 
  • For a complete list of offerings, visit our website

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