It’s All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an Eye (or Gets COVID-19)

August 26, 2020

Ah, predictions. This past May and June, the Student & Athlete Defense group wrote a blog and recorded a podcast about how colleges will implement and enforce social distancing rules. Fast forward, we’re here. Just this week, Florida Gulf Coast University suspended two fraternities accused of hosting large, off-campus parties – which the school said were in “violation of the University’s COVID-19 guidelines for crowd size, social distancing and face coverings, thereby possibly posing a serious and direct threat to the safety and well-being of the campus community and operations.” It was a similar story at the University of Pittsburgh, which suspended a quarter of all Greek life chapters that school officials said “may have been involved in conduct that violates the University’s Health and Safety Guidelines, as well as other violations of the Student Code of Conduct.” And in Ohio, The Ohio State University (OSU) issued 228 interim suspensions to students for violating the school’s prohibition on large gatherings. OSU defines a large gathering as one with more than 10 people. In addition to limiting the size of social gatherings, OSU requires that students wear face masks and practice safe distancing. These guidelines apply both on and off campus, and those found in violation of the rules face student conduct proceedings.

OSU, like other colleges and universities around the country, will “throw the book” at those students and organizations reported to be violating the new COVID-19 spin to student conduct rules. Charges can include onerous accusations such as “Endangering Behavior,” “Failure to Comply with University or Civil Authority,” and a catch-all “Violation of University Rules or Federal, State or Local Laws.” Presently, we are unaware of any states that have criminalized violations of social distancing rules.

Most would agree that social distancing rules are essential for the school year to be successful. However, there are times that application of the rules may not always be practical or feasible. For example, what if more than 20 students live in a house? How can a college prevent residents from gathering in a living room or back yard? Likewise, what about situations in which each resident invites one or two friends over, but the net effect of everyone in the house doing so quickly becomes a large gathering? Finally, what about situations in which a resident is in his or her own room, but roommates invite friends over and a large gathering develops over time? Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Application of student conduct rules to social distancing scenarios can become complicated quickly – for both students and administrators.

We all have to do our best during these turbulent times. Wear masks when going out. Try to stay six feet away from the next person. And, as sad as it sounds, don’t hang around lots of other students. This doesn’t sound like college at all. But, it’s better than the alternatives: being stuck at your parents’ house, getting in trouble on campus, or worse, getting sick.

If you have questions or would like to discuss further, please reach out to Susan Stone at scs@kjk.com or 216.736.7220 or Kristina Supler at kws@kjk.com or 216.736.7217.

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