SUNY Oneonta is canceling in-person classes this fall and sending students home after 389 people tested positive for COVID-19, the upstate college announced Thursday.
The 6,000-student college is the first in the state university system to nix plans for in-person instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision comes days after SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced the college would switch to remote learning for two weeks after more than 100 people tested positive for the virus. Malatras, speaking Sunday, cited "reports of several large parties" of Oneonta students in explaining the decision.
The outbreak at Oneonta comes as students of all ages are returning to universities, high schools and elementary schools across the state despite the continued threat of the virus, which has killed more than 180,000 people in the country.
"While this is sudden news and something no one wanted, the risk to our campus and Oneonta community is too great," SUNY Oneonta president Barbara Jean Morris wrote in a statement. "We committed to do everything we could to mitigate this situation, and today, that means ending residential housing for this semester."
Oneonta is asking students who have tested negative for the virus and are not under a quarantine order to move out by Monday. Those who are quarantined should remain on campus until they are cleared by the local Department of Health.
The college will offer refunds for housing and dining to students who leave, Morris' statement read. The semester at Oneonta began Aug. 24.
Oneonta students from Long Island expressed relief, but also frustration, at the turn of events.
"I'm actually kind of glad I got sent home," said Gage Adler, 21, of West Islip. "Things were getting out of hand."
Adler said fraternities, sororities and sports teams have thrown parties since students returned to campus.
"I did not attend those," said Adler, a senior. "I knew better."
Chris Frommeyer, also an Oneonta senior from Long Island, attributed the rise in cases to "a mix between people coming up with COVID and people being irresponsible while they're here." He said some students have not worn masks or practiced social distancing.
Hunter Beio, 21, a junior from Ridge, criticized the college and the state university system for their response to the pandemic.
"I've only been here for a week, and now I have to go home because they couldn't take care of their college," he said. "I feel the entire SUNY school system, they should've had one unified plan instead of letting the presidents do their own plan."
SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis said Thursday the plans of the colleges and universities had to meet state requirements, and SUNY reviewed all of them before they were implemented.
"There are some differences as campuses worked to meet the specific needs of their students," she said.
As of Sunday, Malatras said five Oneonta students had been suspended for holding parties against the college's policy, and three campus groups were suspended as well.
According to a SUNY news release, Malatras supports "maximum disciplinary actions against students ignoring guidelines as the increase in cases is directly related to students breaking safety protocols."