Universities must ensure all students have access to a safe educational environment. Schools frequently invoke strict sanctions on students who endanger the safety or well-being of others.
Schools typically include safety and fire policies in their student codes of conduct. These rules restrict students from possessing prohibited items, interfering with fire and safety inspections, or tampering with safety equipment.
Students who fail to uphold these rules could face a disciplinary hearing. If school administrators find them guilty of a violation, they can face steep consequences. A single safety or fire violation could result in probation, suspension, or expulsion from the university.
If your university accuses you of violating its code of conduct, you should take action right away. Here's what you need to know about safety and fire violations and how a student defense attorney can help.
What Are Safety and Fire Violations?
Many student codes of conduct include safety and fire protocols and procedures. These sections outline not only university safety measures but also student expectations for safety. You can typically find this information in a student handbook or code of conduct on your school's website.
Although they vary from school to school, many safety policies are relatively similar. In general, universities forbid students from partaking in any behavior that endangers others or interferes with safety protocols. Brown University's code of conduct, for instance, includes the following safety policy:
“Members of the University community have a shared responsibility to ensure a safe workplace and to protect the health and safety of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors. This means you adhere to good health and safety policies and practices; comply with all environmental health and safety laws, regulations and related University policies; attend required training; and report unsafe conditions, equipment or practices to University officials.”
Here are some common rules around fire and safety at universities.
Residence halls and campus apartments are subject to periodic safety inspections, such as fire drills. Schools typically require students to vacate the premises when an alarm sounds. Students who fail to leave promptly or interfere with safety inspections may face relocation, removal from campus housing, or other sanctions.
Tampering with Safety Equipment
Tampering with safety equipment may endanger students and other members of their community. Schools prohibit students from activating fire alarms, discharging fire extinguishers, or messing with other fire detection devices unless a hazard is present. Students may also face punishment for covering or disabling smoke detectors in their residence hall.
Students must also not use decorations that put others in danger. Hanging items from ceilings or sprinkler systems is usually prohibited. Many schools also mandate that students keep combustibles away from heaters and appliances. They also restrict students from having combustible holiday decorations, such as wreaths or Christmas trees.
Universities also restrict students from possessing items that may pose a safety threat. These rules apply while students are on campus or in their campus residence. Commonly prohibited items include candles, space heaters, flammable liquids, halogen lamps, gases, fireworks, toaster ovens, microwaves, and extension cords.
Other types of safety violations include smoking inside a building, intentionally or negligently starting a fire, or making fake emergency calls. Schools may also restrict students from leaving items in hallways, entrances, or emergency exit routes.
How Universities Respond to Safety Violations
Schools respond to safety violations on a case-by-case basis. The university response depends on the severity of the incident and the facts surrounding the violation. In many circumstances, students who violate safety policies will attend a disciplinary hearing. These hearings usually include a panel of judges who determine whether or not a violation occurred. They are also responsible for determining sanctions against the student.
During a disciplinary hearing, both sides have the opportunity to present their case. Students are often allowed to speak about the incident, provide evidence, and bring forth witnesses. Many schools also allow students to use an advisor. Although they are not always permitted to speak during the hearing, an advisor plays an important role. They can help students prepare a defense, respond to allegations, and reduce sanctions. You can find more details about your school's disciplinary process in its code of conduct.
Sanctions for Violations
If you face a fire or safety violation, it's important to know what you're up against. Many schools have more severe consequences for fire and safety violations than other code of conduct infractions. Since breaking these rules threatens other people's safety, you may face significant sanctions. Sanctions may also be more extreme for repeat or high-level violations.
Here is an example of sanctions courtesy of Skidmore College's Fire and Safety Policy:
- Formal letter of warning
- Meeting with a college administrator
- Removal from residence for the remainder of the current academic year
- Referral to student conduct
- Restitution for damages resulting from the violation
- Suspension from college
- Dismissal from college
Utilizing an Advisor
If you face a safety or fire violation, you should speak with an attorney right away. Many students fail to recognize the importance of challenging code of conduct violations. Schools take safety policies very seriously. They may be quick to make an example of students who put other people's safety at risk. Even worse, they may make a biased decision and hold you responsible for the violation with insufficient evidence.
A disciplinary hearing provides you with the opportunity to prove your innocence and prevent sanctions. Although your attorney may not be able to represent you during the hearing, they can protect your rights throughout the disciplinary process. They can ensure you receive a fair hearing and challenge excessive sanctions. An experienced attorney can also help you file an appeal and push to overturn unsubstantiated rulings.
If you're facing a code of conduct violation, attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help. He has spent years representing students in code of conduct matters. He will work to protect your rights, confidentiality, and your future. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 for more information.