The Decision to Reopen: Going Back to College during COVID-19

Jul. 16, 2020 By Andrew Miltenberg

The Decision to Reopen: Going Back to College during COVID-19

As the threat of COVID-19 continues through summer and into autumn, students and their families are making decisions and looking for information about returning to college. These decisions rely on answers to some difficult questions. Will the cost of college change, and are schools assessing that cost fairly? Can you trust your school to keep on-campus students safe? Will safety measures be fair? 

Definitive answers are hard to find in today’s uncertain climate. While there are no easy solutions, we can provide a look into the challenges students and their families might face while making these hard decisions. With this post, Andrew T. Miltenberg, Esq., an experienced attorney specializing in student rights and due process, begins an eight-post guide to the questions college students and their families must consider as schools look to reopen this fall, as well as what to look in the answers offered by colleges and universities.

Transparency and Safety

The very first issue students and families should consider in their back-to-school decision is the question of transparency. As Miltenberg explains, “It’s very hard to say what life will look like on college campuses in the coming months.” This applies to the schools as well as to the students. No one can predict exactly what will happen, and unexpected challenges are practically a guarantee.

In an atmosphere of uncertainty, the best place schools can start is with transparency. In response to COVID-19, schools are making countless changes to class structure, medium, schedules, safety protocols, on- and off-campus residences, and more. 

Some colleges are almost entirely closing their campuses and providing remote learning only. Others are opening their doors and plan to host all classes in the classroom once more. Still others are allowing students to choose whether to stay home or go to campus, or they’re dividing the semester between remote and on-campus periods. On top of that, schools are also making decisions about other protocols: how to keep students healthy, how to preserve student rights, and how much to charge.

If you or a loved one is a student and considering whether to go back to school in the fall, ask yourself: Is the school being transparent about its COVID-19 policies, and what are the factors that went into its decision? How is all of this affecting my tuition bill? “You’re paying not only room and board but also for your physical presence on the campus,” Miltenberg says.

For students that will return to campus, there are additional health and safety questions to consider. Will students be required to wear masks, and in what contexts? How frequently will the college clean the facilities? How will students be fed without risking infection? What happens if someone gets sick?

Taking it a step further, how will safety measures affect student privacy? Is contact tracing invasive? Will students be held responsible for their off-campus activities? Will existing students be forced to sign new liability waivers? Campus life also offers sports games and access to gymnasiums, laboratories, and other facilities and amenities. Will online learners receive compensation for receiving less than a full on-campus experience?

Options for Students and Families

Right now, there are a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty. While answers may be difficult to find, Miltenberg urges all students and their families to remember that there are options. Colleges and universities will start to reveal their COVID-19 practices as autumn approaches, and if you are concerned about getting the value you paid for, do not hesitate to reach out for help. 

Whether you’re a freshman or graduate student, legal aid is an option available to you. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney can tell you exactly how they might be able to remedy your situation. To learn more about legal assistance for higher education matters, contact Andrew T. Miltenberg, Esq. of Nesenoff & Miltenberg LLP for a consultation.