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If Another Student Reports Me For COVID-19 Violations, What Are My Options?

Colleges and universities across the country have created specific policies concerning COVID-19, which often require face coverings and social distancing, and include restrictions on social gatherings and off-campus visitors. In many cases, institutions have clarified that student violations of COVID-19 safety policies may result in sanctions according to the college or university code of conduct, or that students may face sanctions or other consequences if they agreed to a behavioral contract (which might also be described as a health compact, or health or honor pledge) in order to return to campus. Many of these colleges and universities have also implemented reporting tools for faculty, staff, and other community members to report violations of the campus COVID-19 policies.

For many students, there are significant concerns about being falsely reported for a violation. To defend against a false report of a COVID-19 violation, it will be important for the student to learn the details of the alleged violation, to understand how the institution’s reporting system works, and to consider the enforceability of the college’s code of conduct or behavioral contract when it comes to COVID-19 violations. Any student who is falsely accused should also learn more about the procedures for a conduct hearing, as well as the ways in which the university’s student code of conduct might have consequences for false reporting or making false statements. If this type of conduct policy is in effect, the student may be able to show that they did not violate the institution’s COVID-19 policy while also proving that the reporter of the alleged violation should be investigated.

Understanding COVID-19 Violation Reporting Systems

Many colleges and universities have implemented COVID-19 violation reporting systems, which students and employees can use to report others who are violating COVID-19 rules or policies. In some cases, a college’s reporting system allows parties outside the university setting, but within the community, to file a report. To consider options for defending against a false allegation, it is important to understand what these reporting systems look like.

At Cornell University, for example, a reporting form is available to anyone on the Cornell University campus or anyone in the Ithaca community who wants to file a report. The reporting system indicates that it is designed for “non-emergency reporting of behaviors involving student(s), organizations or employee(s) that do not promote a healthy and safe community during the pandemic caused by COVID-19.” While the system does permit people to make anonymous reports, the form specifically states that “an anonymous report will not lead to a formal review (which needs a witness) but may serve to help inform our educational efforts.” SUNY-Albany also has a similar reporting system. While it does not specifically clarify how anonymous complaints will be received, the system indicates that “anonymous reports may limit the extent to which the University is able to investigate and/or address the complaint.”

In sum, the COVID-19 violation reporting systems largely require that the person making the report identify himself, herself, or themselves in order for the university or college to begin taking legitimate action in response. As such, false accusations with enforcement potential—i.e., those that are not reported anonymously—are less likely to occur. Yet even if they do, students have options for defending against false allegations.

Proving You Did Not Violate Your College or University COVID-19 Policy

If you are accused of violating the COVID-19 policy at your college or university, resulting in a student conduct investigation, it will be critical to obtain all of the facts surrounding the allegation. Depending upon the details reported in the complaint by another student, you may be able to prove that you were not at the location where a large social gathering occurred, or that you did not engage in the type of prohibited off-campus behavior alleged in the complaint because you were on campus at the time for a specific event. Or, if you were required to quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test and another student reports you for being in public, you may be able to prove that you were in fact self-quarantining as required. In other words, depending upon the nature of the alleged violation, you may be able to prove that you have an alibi.

To prove you have an alibi, or to prove that you did not violate off-campus visitor restrictions or other COVID-19 policies, your code of conduct lawyer can help you to gather information from witnesses who will support your version of events. Depending upon how your institution handles investigations and hearings, you may be able to present witnesses in person, or you may be able to submit witness statements. Your attorney can help you to determine other options for proving that you were falsely accused of violating a COVID-19 policy or your school’s behavioral contract.

Conduct Codes and False Statements

Finally, if you are falsely accused of a COVID-19 policy violation and the accuser provides his, her, or their name in the allegation, you may be able to make a report against that student for making a false statement. Many student codes of conduct at American colleges and universities prohibit students from making false allegations or false statements to faculty or university administrators. Knowingly making a false report about another student’s COVID-19 violation often will be a violation of the conduct code for the student who makes the false report.

Depending upon your university’s procedures for student conduct violations, you may be able to make what amounts to a counter report in the case of a false accusation.

Contact an Experienced National Code of Conduct Lawyer

If you learn that you have been reported for a COVID-19 violation, it will be critical to determine who made the report, and to learn about the details contained in the report. An experienced national code of conduct attorney can discuss the best strategy for proving that the allegations are false, and gathering the necessary evidence to show that you did not violate any existing policies. Contact Duffy Law, LLC to speak with an advocate about defending against a COVID-19 violation report.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.