The late 19th Century American novelist E.W. Howe once remarked: “[t]o be an ideal guest, stay at home.” How completely prophetic! Ironically, E.W. Howe’s life coincided with the Spanish flu epidemic. However, this quote likely references that guests can sometimes overstay their welcome and, likely, had absolutely nothing to do with the Spanish flu. Yet with COVID-19 still in our midst, the words apply to today’s political climate on college campuses where one article published in University Business referred to guests attending large parties as the new “public smoking.”
We think about these adages now that we have defended a number of cases in which students have been charged with violating college or university COVID-19 policies. Understandably, for those colleges that have opened their doors this fall, keeping students healthy must remain a top priority. To halt the spread of the virus on campus, schools have expanded their rules to prevent students from attending large social gatherings, and going on campus without a mask. Colleges enforce these new rules and literally send student violators packing – all while holding on to their tuition dollars. If colleges are going to stay open, they must send a strong signal to students that they mean business: no parties allowed on or off-campus.
The media has seized on the worst of these violations. Last month, video from a police officer’s body camera off-campus at Miami University exposed a student admitting to the officer that his entire household tested positive for COVID-19 – and still decided to allow guests to come hang out under the weak excuse that they were probably infected as well. Interestingly, the police officer discovered the breach of quarantine rules after scanning the student’s identification and seeing a note in the computer system indicating that the student tested positive for the virus just one week earlier. Egads!
The reverse scenario is also true. Healthy students can allow guests over and become ill. Or, as reported in the Daily News back in March of this year, a father and daughter decided to attend a school dance after a family member had recently tested positive. The above scenarios just expose intentional violation of rules and use of poor judgment.
Unfortunately, these cases are the ones that gain mass attention. We have defended students who have been wrongfully accused of violating campus COVID-19 policies. Like any craze – and we are in a mass craze – innocent people can become tangled with those who are guilty. For example, we have successfully defended students accused of violating mass gathering rules by proving that the rules were not violated when a house with a lot of residents decided to hang out outside. Gathering rules only apply to visitors; thus, if a house of 20 decides to sit outside, they are not responsible for violating school rules. Likewise, those residents have the lawful right under most school polices and government regulations to invite 10 guests. Under a scenario where a house has 20 students, 10 visitors can join an outside event.
This analysis does not apply to situations where students are under quarantine due to having or being exposed to COVID-19. In that case, no guests are allowed. However, even in that scenario, students are unclear about rules. We were contacted by a family with a student who was accused of leaving the house to seek medical attention. Is that breaking quarantine? If so, how is a student supposed to be checked by a doctor? There may be other reasonable reasons to leave a residence that are not addressed in simple “you can’t leave your home” rules. Rushing to judgment without any pause has led to unjust results. We get calls now on an almost weekly basis asking us to help their child who was wrongfully suspended for violating campus COVID-19 policies at school.
Calm discretion must always prevail. These are turbulent times for everyone, both on and off campus. But most students should be given the benefit of the doubt during these moments when the knee-jerk reaction is to kick these students to the curb.
If you have questions about COVID-19 campus policy violations or would like to discuss further, please reach out to Student & Athlete Defense attorneys Susan Stone (firstname.lastname@example.org or 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler at (email@example.com or 216.736.7217).
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