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Overview of College Policies In Response to COVID-19

Last spring, nearly all colleges and universities in the country turned to remote education as the coronavirus pandemic led to stay-at-home orders and the closings of non-essential businesses. During the summer, many of those colleges and universities made plans to reopen for on-campus learning, and developed policies designed to bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus while taking the health and safety risks of COVID-19 exposure and infection into consideration. Those policies vary widely among colleges and universities. Some institutions have implemented stringent health and safety rules with equally stringent policies for holding students accountable when they violate policies. Other institutions have more permissive COVID-19 policies. Some of the distinctions depend in part on whether the college or university is a public or private institution, and whether the student behavior is occurring on-campus or off-campus.

Regardless of the specific policies in place at your college or university, or at your child’s college or university, it is important to know that institutions may be able to sanction students who violate COVID-19 policies.

Code of Conduct Violations Related to COVID-19 Policies

Beyond the COVID-19 policies or regulations themselves, many colleges and universities have developed or amended student codes of conduct that require students to adhere to COVID-19 policies. Even at institutions in which students are not specifically bound by COVID-19 clauses in a university policy, the code of conduct can require students to adhere to any coronavirus-related policies and can institute serious consequences for students who violate the policy. College and university policies related to COVID-19 concern many different safety issues on campus, including general COVID-19 safety measures, limitations on social gatherings, and rules for having off-campus visitors.

Even if a school’s code of conduct does not specifically address violations of COVID-19 policy, the college or university might require students to sign a behavioral contract. Violations of a code of conduct or a behavioral contract can range widely depending upon the specific college or university, and the nature of the violation. In sum, if a student violates a college’s or university’s COVID-19 policies, that student might be facing short-term or long-term consequences, including removal from campus.

General Policies Regarding On-Campus COVID-19 Safety

Colleges and universities in the U.S. have varying campus-wide COVID-19 safety requirements for students, faculty, and staff. Some institutions are requiring frequent COVID-19 testing in conjunction with social distancing and mask use, while others are requiring only face coverings with limited repercussions for violations.

For example, the University of Illinois requires all students, employees, visitors, and anyone else on campus to wear a face covering while they are inside any campus building or in any public space where social distancing cannot occur. In addition, anyone who participates in any on-campus activity must participate in the COVID-19 testing program, which involves having a COVID-19 test twice per week. If a student tests positive for COVID-19, that student is required to isolate for 10 days. Students are also prohibited from having gatherings of more than 10 people. Students in violation of any of the COVID-19 policies can be removed from campus. Similarly, Columbia University requires any student who returns to campus to have a COVID-19 test, to practice social distancing, and to wear face coverings. Students in violation of campus policies can face a range of sanctions, from a warning to a suspension or dismissal.

Other institutions have instituted policies that require face coverings and social distancing, yet enforcement is limited. For example, Texas A&M requires students to wear face coverings in public spaces and to maintain social distancing, yet students in violation will first “receive a collegial reminder” to abide by policies, and then will be asked to leave the public space if they will not comply.

What Are College Policies Concerning Social Gatherings and Parties?

Many colleges and universities have created policies that prohibit social gatherings of students and, specifically, parties and Greek life events. Yet the ability for a college or university to enforce such policies largely depends upon whether the institution is public or private, and whether the behavioral restrictions apply to on-campus or off-campus activities.

For example, public institutions like UC Berkeley have less freedom to develop and enforce restrictive COVID-19 policies than private institutions. Similarly, while UC Berkeley may be able to enforce on-campus policies against large social gatherings, the university does not likely have the authority to enforce these types of policies for off-campus activities.

What Are College Policies About Off-Campus Visitors During COVID-19?

Policies in higher education concerning visitors from off campus also vary widely. For instance, Sacred Heart University prohibits all non-essential off-campus visitors, and specifically prohibits any off-campus visitors inside student residences. The university clarifies that students who violate the policy can face significant sanctions, including “separation from” the university. Many other colleges and universities have similar policies in place, and sanctions for violations appear in codes of conduct or behavioral contracts.

Differently, institutions like Texas A&M University are only prohibiting overnight off-campus visitors in student residence halls, and the university specified that it will enforce that rule only as is “practicable.”

What You I Do If I Am Facing Sanctions for a COVID-19 Violation?

Whether you have signed a behavioral contract or are bound by COVID-19 policy through a code of conduct, it is critical to understand the policy and the ability for the institution to enforce it. If you are facing sanctions for a college’s COVID-19 policy, you should seek advice from a national college code of conduct lawyer about your situation. Depending upon the particular facts of the case, the college or university may not be able to enforce certain terms of its COVID-19 policy even if a student is in violation.

Contact Our Experienced National Code of Conduct Attorneys

If you are facing a code of conduct violation or any other sanction due to a COVID-19 policy violation, you should seek advice from a national code of conduct attorney as soon as possible. It is critical to work with a lawyer who has experience handling code of conduct cases, and who can help you to determine your options for avoiding sanctions. Contact Duffy Law, LLC to learn more about the services we provide to college and university students facing code of conduct sanctions.

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.