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Coronavirus College Policy & Conduct Code Violations

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College and University Coronavirus Policy Violations

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In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities across the country are implementing new practices and policies designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Practices and policies vary from campus to campus, and different institutions are implementing policies that range from extremely restrictive (with disciplinary actions possible for students who are found to be in violations) to relatively lax (with institutions implementing new “recommendations” as opposed to “requirements”).

The following are issues to consider in order to understand how coronavirus college policies and conduct code violations may arise, and how students may be able to defend against them.

Different Types of Policies Schools Are Implementing

Colleges and universities are implementing different types of policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

As an article in The New York Times explains, Syracuse plans on requiring students to sign codes of conduct with penalties for violating COVID-19 rules more severe than punishment for smoking marijuana. On the other end of the spectrum, the University of Kentucky presents a more lenient front, adopting existing honor codes that urge students to ‘promote personal responsibility and peer accountability.’ Other schools that falls somewhere in between, like the University of Texas-Austin, are prohibiting students from hosting parties (on or off-campus), are prohibiting students from having overnight guests in dorm rooms, and are instituting disciplinary measures if students fail to abide by social distancing or PPE (i.e., mask) requirements.

Enforceability of Policies and Exceptions

According to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the enforceability of policies will depend upon a number of factors, including, for example:

  • Whether policies are outlined in a Code of Conduct or behavioral contract
  • Whether the college or university is public or private
  • Whether the policy seeks to enforce behavior on-campus, off-campus, or both

In general, it is more difficult to enforce policies off-campus. For a number of public universities, the institution does not have jurisdiction off-campus.

Potential Defenses and Due Process

If a student is faced with a temporary campus ban or disciplinary measures for violating a coronavirus policy, the student may be able to present a defense if the student can prove that she or he did not violate the policy. The student also may be able to argue that the policy was unenforceable due to state or municipal laws, or the university’s jurisdiction.

Public universities have to attend more carefully to due process considerations for students than do private universities. As such, private institutions may be better able to enforce policies (and students may have more difficulty defending against sanctions).

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

College students and their families likely have many questions about coronavirus policies on campuses. The following are some answers to frequently asked questions:

Can I be expelled from my college for not wearing a mask?

It depends on a handful of factors. If your college or university has a student Code of Conduct, or required you to sign a behavioral contract, that requires the use of masks in classrooms and other on-campus spaces, a willful violation of the requirement ultimately could result in expulsion. For example, the University of West Virginia explains that students’ failure to comply with PPE requirements as outlined in the Student Code of Conduct will result in measures that may include a written warning, removal from class, probation, suspension, and/or expulsion. Next, were you on campus when you violated the rule? If you are not wearing a mask off-campus, it is more difficult for a college or university to enforce a mask requirement or other behavioral conduct policies in off-campus settings.

What if I live in a state without a mask mandate?

Again, it depends. If your institution is private and is located in a state without a mask mandate, that private institution likely can require masks. If it is a public institution, it may depend upon whether there is a municipal (or other local) mask mandate.

How will the coronavirus affect Greek Life (fraternities and sororities)?

Fraternities and sororities located on-campus likely will be restricted significantly in terms of organizing large gatherings, particularly those involving a large number of people with alcohol. As the article in The Chronicle suggests, many institutions likely will follow policies like those at the University of Mississippi, where on-campus fraternities and sororities can be placed on probation or be subject to additional disciplinary measures for violating campus policies designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, like at UC-Berkeley, many institutions cannot lawfully regulate such conduct in off-campus houses.

Can I be expelled for violating social distancing or mask requirements off-campus?

Off-campus policies are much more difficult to enforce. While some private institutions may be able to hold students accountable for certain risky behaviors off-campus, many colleges and universities will be in the same position as UC-Berkeley—the institution will not have jurisdiction, and regulating or enforcing social distancing and mask requirements will involve local authorities.

What if I attend college classes while infected but I didn’t know I was infected?

If you are following any testing requirements or symptom-reporting requirements (or similar requirements) instituted by your college or university in a Code of Conduct or behavioral contract, you will likely not be subject to disciplinary measures. However, if you attended class while infected—even if you did not know you were infected—you could be in violation of a conduct code or behavioral contract if you failed to abide by certain requirements designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Seek Advice from a National Code of Conduct Attorney

Do you have questions or concerns about code of conduct violations pertaining to COVID-19 policies? At Duffy Law, LLC, our national code of conduct lawyers are highly experienced when it comes to handling issues related to conduct code violations in colleges and universities, and we can speak with you today about your situation. Contact Duffy Law, LLC for more information.

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