Miltenberg: “Students Accused Of Breaking College COVID-19 Rules Fight Their Punishments,” NPR


As colleges around the U.S. are facing COVID-19 outbreaks and crackdowns on students engaged in coronavirus-risky behavior, campuses are also facing a new threat: legal challenges from the students they’re punishing. Some are brazenly breaking rules, like the hundreds of Syracuse University students who risked everyone’s safety — and everyone’s semester — by partying like it’s not 2020 in late August. Twenty-three students at that party got interim suspensions and were kicked off campus for what Syracuse officials described as “incredibly reckless behavior.” The same thing is happening to students at smaller, more “chill” gatherings. At Northeastern University, 11 students were caught hanging out together in one room, in violation of bans on having guests in campus housing and on participating in crowded gatherings. “I was just, like, come on — that’s really irresponsible and selfish,” junior Avery Collard said about the students who were all kicked off campus and out of their program for the semester. Collard said they had it coming. “There’s very specific rules that say you can’t do that,” she said. “[They’re] adults. I know it’s hard, but act like it!” But for all the scorn directed at students who flout the rules, the colleges meting out the discipline are taking heat as well. Rhyia Bibby, a junior at Northeastern, is one of many on campus who think the university went too far by also refusing to refund the students’ tuition, which amounts to $36,500 per person. “I think there are other ways to send a message than to take $36,000 away from incoming students,” Bibby said. “I also think it’s important that in freshman year, a bit of grace can be given.” Attorney Brett Joshpe, who appealed the suspension for two of the students, agrees. “This is just a spiteful, gratuitous, grossly disproportionate penalty,” he said, for students who were “just watching a basketball game with friends, with masks on.” Northeastern refused to budge on the suspensions but on Thursday notified the students that part of the money they lost could be applied to future tuition, if the students choose to return. University officials declined to comment on the case beyond their initial written statement saying that the students were repeatedly warned of the rules and the consequences. Joshpe called the university’s response “totally unacceptable” and said his clients will be “evaluating all options.” Northeastern is hardly the only school whose tough disciplinary actions are under scrutiny. Attorneys say their phones haven’t stopped ringing, and they’ve been hired to help students fight sanctions at other schools, from Syracuse University to New York University, Boston College, Penn State and many more. “This has gone from a few cases here and there to a near epidemic,” said attorney Andrew Miltenberg. He has long represented students accused of sexual assault, making the case that those alleged sexual predators were victims of a rush to judgment. Now, he says, schools are doing the same thing to alleged superspreaders. “They’re not allowing any discussion or any mitigating circumstances. People are being summarily suspended, and there is no due process,” Miltenberg said.

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