The novel coronavirus is disrupting and transforming the way people interact, migrate, study, and work. Since its emergence in December 2019, over one million people worldwide have lost their lives, and the number of infected people isn't decreasing. The stubbornly aggressive virus is not hard to catch, and infection rates continue to soar despite global efforts to limit its spread.
With fears of a new surge looming on the horizon, colleges are in crisis-management mode, establishing and updating COVID-19 policies to keep students safe. The ultimate goal of college administrations is to protect their students and staff members from contracting COVID-19. There are two reasons for this; the most important, undoubtedly, is the students' health, while the second is litigation avoidance. Although each college applies a different strategy to cover the bases, there are some implementation issues.
COVID-19 policy misconduct cases in colleges are on the rise and gaining momentum. The safeguards that schools are implementing are causing more harm than good, and students pay the price. At the same time, colleges face a greater degree of financial uncertainty with a sluggish global economy. Even state legislations are evolving to address COVID-related issues in schools and colleges.
Colleges respond to the changes by scrambling to keep contamination rates low or face closures. As a response to growing concerns of contamination, they are imposing harsh sanctions on students.
The Pandemic and Academia
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consistently updates guidelines for colleges and universities as new information emerges about the disease. As a response to the pandemic, colleges and universities are creating COVID-19 policies that align with the CDC's recommendations. They mainly involve social distancing and using protective gear.
The issue lies in the best way to enforce these policies. Students are often young, impulsive, and don't want the confinement that preventative measures impose on their lives and social gatherings. Already, there is a spike in cases of COVID-19 throughout US college campuses for the fall semester. An example is Sacred Heart University. Due to the rising number of infections after reopening, the administration is threatening to switch to distance learning as students will not follow guidelines.
What further complicates issues is that college and university policies vary across the country. Some, like Syracuse, are strictly enforcing penalties. Syracuse's stance on violating their COVID-19 policy received attention for being more severe than the punishment for smoking cannabis. On the opposite side of the spectrum, colleges like the University of Kentucky encourage social distancing but do not alter their existing policies.
Despite how stringent or lax college policies are, colleges are struggling to keep up – and it shows. Campuses reopening around the nation are experiencing spikes in the numbers of students contracting COVID-19. Moreover, their students are most likely within the age group that WHO considers are the main spreaders of the disease – people under 40.
What Colleges Are Doing About COVID-19
Colleges and universities are implementing strategies to keep their classrooms free of COVID-19. In addition to their cleaning and sanitization efforts, other methods to decrease the spread include:
Temporarily Using Distance Learning
Distance learning is the safest way to ensure students don't transmit the disease and contaminate one another. Although virtual classes are an adjustment and come with their policy violation risks, they are an alternative to on-campus learning. Since administrations are unsure of how to proceed even with strict policies in place, this is the best way to guarantee that they don't have a hand in the spread.
Banning Gatherings On and Off-Campus
Banning group gatherings decreases the virus transmission rate between students. Philadelphia's Temple University took that route, aiming to curb the spread among its 40,000 students. Although the ban is easy to enforce on-campus, it is when they happen off-campus that it becomes more difficult to contain. When students violate the ban, they can face suspension, as did three dozen Purdue University students, after attending a party that violated school rules.
Performing or Requiring Testing
Before the commencement of classes, some universities ask their student to undergo screening to identify who has the virus. Whether it is through an on-campus or external lab, students must prove that they are COVID-19 negative before attending. There are issues with this policy due to testing capacity limitations and their effectiveness at curbing the spread.
Enforcing Mask Mandates
Masks prevent the spread of airborne particles that contain the virus. Many students do not wear their masks properly or forgo them altogether. Colleges are enforcing mask-wearing and not allowing students who refuse to wear face masks to attend their classes.
Using Student Ambassadors
Perhaps among the most controversial methods colleges use is assigning student ambassadors to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing. These ambassadors don't just remind the student; they also report the incident to the administration. Some colleges tried to include law enforcement officers with the ambassadors, which caused adverse reactions from students and their parents. Students who have multiple reports against them receive warning letters first, then sanctions and penalties afterward.
Student Health Training and Information Briefs
College administrations publish information briefs through their websites to inform and educate their students about the latest guidelines and developments related to COVID-19. Additionally, they include training material that acts as a visual guide to decreasing contamination, all of which are easily accessible. Providing online resources that allow students to understand the regulations and why they are necessary may encourage them to do their part to follow university COVID-19 policies.
Creating a Health Pledge
Some colleges ask students to perform a health pledge that they will do their part to limit exposure to the virus and prevent others from contracting it. The commitment involves students in the efforts of their schools. It is an opportunity to educate students on how to avoid transmitting the disease.
Developing Real-Time COVID-19 Infection Rate Portal
One approach that is helping colleges monitor and curb rates of transmission is publishing real-time statistics. Students, faculty, and college administrations will identify worrying trends and take action before rates increase between the student population.
Adding Clauses to Codes of Conduct
Some colleges are adding new clauses to their Code of Conduct to make penalties more visible to students and decrease the rate of infection. This action allows them to enforce sanctions against the student if caught violating terms. These clauses also create pressure for students to report others when they commit a violation, ruining camaraderie between peers.
How COVID Policies Are Affecting Students
As fears of a second surge are mounting, college administrations are upping the ante when it comes to sanctions and penalties against students violating their COVID policy.
Although it is safer for students to abide by the rules, there are instances where the allegations do not warrant the punishment. A haphazard or group suspension may be a way to prove a point to other students. Still, this rash decision affects the penalized students' educational path. It burdens them with violations that have long-lasting consequences.
Moreover, many students are losing trust in their administrations and peers because of how they are enforcing policies. The increasing paranoia, coupled with the disease and the uncertainty of how classes will progress, is creating an environment that is not conducive to learning. Although the precautions are necessary and do save lives, penalizing students for unknowingly violating COVID policies makes them less likely to focus on their education. Furthermore, it takes away from school resources and distracts the administration from more pressing and more severe violations.
Some of the ways that colleges are dealing with those who commit policy violations include:
- Verbal warning: Students receive an oral notice from attendants or safety committees if they do not comply with the rules. The first warning usually does not lead to disciplinary actions.
- Paying a Cash Penalty: Some college administrations require students to pay a cash penalty for violating their policies.
- Sending a warning letter: This is the first course of action colleges take to inform students of campus rules violations. As of the start of the fall season, thousands of students around the country received these letters.
- Isolation: If the college considers a student to be a hazard for others, they may require that the student temporarily isolates from their peers.
- Suspension from classes: A temporary removal from the classroom distances the student from the rest of their peers. This measure is a warning and sends a message that harsher consequences are possible if the student violates again.
- Removal from academic housing facilities: Even if students pay for dorms, colleges have the right to revoke housing rights for those who repeatedly commit violations. Since the students are placing themselves and their peers at risk of contamination, this is one of the few ways to reduce the spread.
- Withdrawing funds: Some administrations fund college groups established on-campus by students and for students. If these groups violate COVID policies, their schools may refuse to continue funding them.
- Suspension: Schools have been regularly imposing suspensions which can range in length from a semester to a year or longer. As bad as a suspension can be on a student's record, the benefit is that a student can return to school at the designated time. That being said, being suspended, even if not directly noted on a student's academic transcript would need to be explained when pursuing internships, graduate or professional school, and/or employment because there would be a gap / separation from studies that would have to be explained. Independent of this consideration, being suspended from college in and of itself can have a severe impact on a student's goals and future opportunities because such disciplinary action would be negatively viewed by any party or institution who is considering a student's application or candidacy especially because life post-college can be incredibly competitive.
- Expulsion: Expulsion may be the last resort for college administrations who send a student more than one warning for COVID-19 violations, or may be the first step taken if a student is found responsible in a case involving eggregious conduct of a first instance. Although it is an extreme measure, some students refuse to comply with the demands of their universities. As a result, hundreds of their peers are getting sick. Colleges and universities have already made it clear, however, that they are ready, willing, and able to expel students if they deem it to be appropriate to the circumstances. They also may do so to send a message to other students that they will not take COVID violations lightly
The issue lies in the haphazard way that college administrations are enforcing the penalties, often applying a “blanket” solution to the problem by targeting hundreds of students at a time. While some sanctions are not as severe as expulsion, they still create problems for the student both in the long and short-term and distracts them from receiving their education.
Students who violate COVID-19 policies of their school receive sanctions depending on many people are at risk. The penalty for not wearing a mask is less severe than that of a person organizing a party without social distancing or masks. Some of the ways students pay the price for their alleged violations include disciplinary probation, paying fines, isolation, and losing their study-abroad privileges.
Whether the actions are intentional or not, college administrations stress that the impact is far more vital to them than the intent. Violators of the policies cannot claim that they did not know that they were going against the rules. This stance makes it even more challenging to establish a solid defense strategy.
Can College Administrations Enforce Sanctions Against COVID Policy Misconduct Violations?
Numerous factors affect the way that colleges can enforce sanctions against policy violators. Some of these include whether the college is public or private, the code of conduct and whether off-campus violations are part of the sanctions.
Other factors come into play as well, such as the general enforcement measures that the school is taking with every student. Additionally, if a student signs a disclosure form and makes commitments that they couldn't keep, they must contact an advisor. A legal representative with knowledge of college processes like Advisor-attorney Lento helps students understand the terms.
To reduce the likelihood of receiving a harsh sanction for violating the policy, you need the representation and counsel of an attorney-advisor who can walk you through the process. Even if the university's procedures are not like those in court, you must still defend yourself against allegations or pay the price.
What is at Stake?
Similarly to how the process goes for any academic misconduct violation, students face immediate and long-term repercussions for going against college COVID policies. Besides losing valuable time from classes, students are at risk of losing credits and, in some instances, the degree they are working to obtain.
As a student, college is a stepping-stone that allows you to continue your career path. If you must re-take a class or, worse, enter a program from the beginning at a different school, you lose time and potential income.
Another factor that is at stake is your reputation. Although in our modern history, we have not had to deal with pandemics like COVID-19, the emergence of the disease is changing the way people interact and think of others. A remark in your permanent record that you willingly or inadvertently helped spread a virus to your fellow peers affect your prospects of getting into graduate school. The charge may also make reputable firms less likely to hire you.
If you are already in graduate school, then a penalty for COVID-19 policy violations undermines your years of hard work, even if you made an honest mistake.
Defending Against a COVID-19 Policy Misconduct Charge
The best approach to handling a COVID-19 policy violation from your school is to contact an advisor who has experience working with college panels. You don't have to be the victim of an administration that wants to make you an example to other students. Even if you were aware of a violation, you still deserve fair representation and defend yourself against disproportionate sanctions that stip away your rights.
To create the best defense strategy that prevents college administrations from unfairly revoking your university privileges, you need the counsel of an attorney-advisor like Joseph D. Lento. Advisor Joseph D. Lento understands what you are going through and enables you to fight for your rights. With years of experience helping students face academic misconduct violations, advisor Lento facilitates the process and creates a strategy that reduces the likelihood of you receiving an unfair sanction.
There are numerous ways that an advisor helps you, even if the college hearing process is not a legal one. The advisor goes over your Code of Conduct and identifies information to help reduce the charges against you. Additionally, disciplinary proceedings are intimidating and cause stress that may affect your statement in front of the panel. With an attorney-advisor by your side, you will have the backing and support of a legal professional who knows what you are going through.
Don't wait until the college panel decides your case to contact an advisor. It can be more difficult to overturn a decision that your board likely will be unwilling to change unless you present substantial evidence to back your claims.
How the Lento Law Firm Helps
It is a challenging time for students and their college administrations. Both are still adjusting to the effects of the disease. Despite how colleges are approaching COVID policy violations, that doesn't mean that you have to deal with the consequences of an overzealous administration and their desire to prove a point. With the right strategy and a knowledgeable advisor by your side, you are less likely to receive a harsh penalty for violations.
The Lento Law Firm helps students receive a fair process and a fair hearing and face college boards with confidence. Since these are extraordinary circumstances, you have a higher chance of receiving a lenient resolution to your violation when you know how to defend yourself. With years of experience and the legal know-how to deal with even the most intimidating panels, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up for you when it seems like there is nowhere to turn.
Call the Lento Law Firm today to discuss your COVID-19 policy misconduct violation and the next steps to take and resolve your case. No matter how grave the offense, you still have a chance to decrease its impact and avoid a harsh penalty. Call 888-535-3686 for the help you need through this difficult time.