The State University of New York is ratcheting up efforts to stop COVID-19 from spreading on its campuses, introducing new sanctions for students who violate health and safety protocols designed to combat the pandemic.
Ignoring quarantine orders, refusing to wear a mask, and hosting or even attending parties that exceed attendance limits are grounds for punishment under the new rules, which took effect Thursday across SUNY's 64-campus network.
Some violations carry stiff penalties, including suspension and expulsion.
"Intentional or otherwise, there continues to be some individuals violating these critical measures on campuses, increasing the chances of spreading the coronavirus and shutting down on-campus activity," SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said in a statement, referring to COVID-19 safety protocols. "While a vast majority of our students are complying with the rules, we cannot let a few people ruin it for everyone."
The new punishments come after coronavirus outbreaks on SUNY campuses stymied reopening plans, including at SUNY Oneonta, where nearly 700 people have tested positive for the virus since late August. SUNY closed the campus in response and sent Oneonta students home to learn remotely for the rest of the semester.
The state is now requiring colleges to switch to remote learning if 100 people on campus, or 5% of the on-campus population, test positive in a two-week period.
The five SUNY colleges on Long Island have reported four cases in the past two weeks: two at Stony Brook University and two at SUNY Old Westbury.
Student gatherings — both on campus and off — are a primary target of the new sanctions, as parties have been widely blamed for such outbreaks.
Hosting or attending gatherings that exceed attendance limits can be grounds for suspension from campus housing and classes or even expulsion, according to a letter Malatras sent to SUNY college presidents last week.
Face coverings are another focus of the new rules. Those who repeatedly or intentionally flout mask requirements can be expelled.
Defying quarantine and self-isolation orders, and failing to cooperate with contact tracers, can also now land students in hot water. Extracurriculars are not exempt from the sanctions, either. Student groups that violate COVID-19 protocols may be kicked off campus, and student-athletes may be banned from competition.
SUNY students from Long Island said the new measures are harsh but fair, given the circumstances.
Shaheer Khan, a senior at Stony Brook University, noted that the rules are meant to protect not only students, but also faculty, staff and campus neighbors.
"The guidelines are publicly displayed, students are made aware of it, they know the repercussions and they're also given due process if they break rules," said Khan, 22, of Elmont. "So I think it's a necessary step to ensure the greater community is kept safe."
Bryce Mack, a SUNY New Paltz junior from Westbury, said colleges should warn students before doling out harsh punishments. But if such warnings go unheeded, he said, the sanctions are justified.
"If a student isn't following the proper protocol, if they're being warned numerous times, then disciplinary actions have to occur," he said.
Gage Adler, 21, of West Islip, is one of many SUNY Oneonta students whose senior year on campus was cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak there.
"It's a little harsh," he said of the new punishments.
But "I feel like it's justified," he added. "You've got to lay down the law to stop the spread."
Sanctionable offenses at SUNY colleges:
- Ignoring self-isolation and quarantine orders
- Hosting or attending gatherings that exceed attendance limits
- Flouting mask requirements
- Failing to comply with contact tracers
- Suspension from campus housing
- Suspension from academics