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Coronavirus-related student suspensions kick off at Maryland universities

Dozens of students at Maryland universities have been temporarily suspended for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions.
Dozens of students at Maryland universities have been temporarily suspended for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. (Carmichaellibrary // Wikimedia Commons)

Just days into the start of the academic year, some Maryland universities that have reopened their campuses have issued interim suspensions to dozens of students believed to have violated coronavirus-related protocols and health guidelines, university spokespersons confirmed Sunday.

At University of Maryland, College Park — the state’s flagship institution — the school’s disciplinary arm has issued interim suspensions to at least 19 students, said spokeswoman Katie Lawson in an email. Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has temporarily suspended 21 students for violating its COVID-19 policies, spokesman Jason Rhodes said in another email.

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The two universities, both affiliates of the University System of Maryland, represent just a handful in the state that have opted to offer in-person learning and room and board to students this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend normalcy. Thousands of individuals in the United States continue to test positive for COVID-19 every day, with hundreds of new, active cases in Maryland alone as of Sunday.

The disciplinary measures highlight the challenges associated with reopening university facilities, which typically lend themselves to communal learning, socializing and living arrangements. In holding students accountable, the University of Maryland and Salisbury University both referenced newly codified language in their codes of conduct related to expectations for students during the pandemic.

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Interim suspensions at both institutions can be lifted once students meet with disciplinary bodies and provide explanations or context about the incidents in question, according to the codes of conduct at both University of Maryland and Salisbury. According to The Diamondback, at least 10 of the 19 suspensions in College Park had already been lifted as of Friday. Lawson did not confirm Sunday that those suspensions were lifted or whether the students would receive tuition or room and board reimbursement.

Representatives at the two institutions did not provide details into the specific incidents that led to the interim suspensions.

Rhodes said none of the students suspended at Salisbury have been reinstated yet, though they could be once their cases are reviewed. Suspensions in this context mean the students cannot be on campus for a limited period but can still take classes remotely. Thus, no reimbursement is being offered for disciplined students, he said.

In a campus-wide email sent out on Friday, Andrea Goodwin, University of Maryland’s director of the Office of Student Conduct, attributed the suspensions “to a failure by some to comply with ... expectations, in particular gathering in large groups, failing to wear masks and failing to maintain 6 feet of physical distance from others and, at times, to the reckless disregard for the directives of the medical professionals at the University Health Center that those infected with the virus isolate themselves so they do not infect others.”

In the letter, Goodwin referenced a set of four commitments mandatory for students to follow in their return to the campus: Quarantining when sick; wearing face coverings at all times; staying at least six feet apart from others; and practicing good hand hygiene.

Lawson said in an email that interim suspensions bar students from the campus as their cases are reviewed and can take place without prior notice.

“In reports of noncompliance for behaviors related to the spread of COVID-19, we have stated that we will not hesitate to take swift and severe disciplinary action, if necessary,” Lawson said. “Not following 4 Maryland healthy behaviors puts our community at risk.”

Dan Alpert, president of University of Maryland’s student government association, said students at the state’s flagship have been made well aware of the risks associated with poor decision-making since before returning to campus and should expect to face the same degree of enforcement as they would any other academic year.

“They need to be held responsible, just like any other time of the year,” he said.

Alpert said the administration has adequately communicated the severity of the situation to students and has done a good job at policing the campus. He worries more about students when they’re off-campus — where students often line up to drink at the bars or gather for Greek life-sponsored events — or when off-campus students host out-of-town visitors from others schools that have already closed down.

“I’m hoping to see more enforcement of different policies and see students behave appropriately,” Alpert said.

Rhodes, from Salisbury, said the university is reviewing the circumstances that involved possible violations of the Student Code of Conduct associated with the newly implemented COVID-19 policies. Salisbury’s student conduct code outlines similar policies and protocols as Maryland’s, requiring students to wear masks in public, quarantine when ill, limit the size of social gatherings and practice social distancing.

Salisbury conducts disciplinary measures in a three-tiered approach. Students found to have violated the third tier — those considered to put the health and safety of the campus community at risk — are likely to be removed from the campus and housing accommodations, according to the school’s COVID-19 Health and Safety policy.

Nationwide, several other schools have proceeded with similar disciplinary actions against students found to have violated COVID-19-related restrictions, including Northeastern University in Boston, West Virginia University and Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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