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Are Students Legally Required to Comply with School COVID-19 Rules?

By August 31, 2020November 7th, 2022No Comments

As colleges and universities resume this fall, some students are viewing their schools’ COVID-19 safety measures as guidelines instead of rules. Large gatherings and partying commenced on many college campuses the day students moved back in.

These gatherings can violate not only school rules but even local and state criminal laws imposed during COVID-19.  Students who face both school accusations and criminal charges need have to walk a careful line to protect their rights.

At Northeastern, a pre-move-in poll on Instagram that a student conducted showed many incoming freshmen intended to ignore COVID-19 safety measures and still host and attend parties.

The results of that survey led the university to send 115 students letters informing them that they were at risk for having their admission rescinded unless they complied with the new safety measures. 

If the students refused to sign the letter the university sent agreeing to adhere to the strict rules against partying and large gatherings, they would not be able to attend the university this fall. 

Just like any other college or university rules, COVID-19 safety measures are regulations students must adhere to or risk suspension or dismissal from the university.

As long as the university has communicated the new rules effectively, students have a responsibility to follow these rules. Students also need to be aware of possible criminal violations for violating COVID-19 safety measures which can be a complicating factor in how to defend against a school proceeding.

Social Media and School Rules

Part of the reason that Northeastern was able to find and discipline these students was because social media was involved. The Instagram poll provided a public record of students who planned to violate school rules.

As students return to college campuses, it’s important to remember that social media can provide colleges and universities proof of misconduct. It can also tell a story that might or might not be completely accurate.

Students need to be very careful with their involvement on social media, especially in light of new rules on student gatherings and parties.

If you end up in a situation where you visit a friend and a large gathering begins to form, you should try to remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible.

Leave your phone in your pocket to avoid creating digital proof of your attendance and do not pose for any photos with your friends. Encourage those around you to also keep their phones tucked away to avoid creating digital proof of school violations if a simple study gathering goes wrong. 

Thinking that the school won’t be able to see your social media posts because they are private is a dangerous notion. Other students who you are friends with could screenshot and share those posts with school administration, and you could find yourself in trouble.

What to Do if Your College or University Charges You with a Violation

With rules and regulations changing quickly, some students might be struggling to keep up with their school’s new rules.

And, some communication is vague and makes it difficult to know what is a rule and what is a new guideline under the adjustments to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

If you’re facing misconduct or disciplinary code violations related to the coronavirus or any rules from your school, here are the important steps you should take to protect your academic record.

  1. Do not discuss the matter with anyone. This includes police, school administrators and even your friends and classmates. If the charges move forward, anyone you discuss the matter with could be called upon to give a testimony about what you told them and serve as a witness in your case.
  2. Contact an attorney. Discussing your situation with a student defense attorney is smart and will prepare you for what to expect next in your dealings with the school and your parents. During a consultation, you’ll learn what to say and what not to say during questioning. 
  3. Don’t wait to see if the violation becomes a large problem. Get legal counsel immediately in case the situation becomes serious. Dismissal or suspension from your school can have enormous costs and consequences. And depending on what you’re being charged with, you could face criminal charges. For example, if your school charges you with being at a party that exceeds the number of guests outlined in their COVID-19 safety measures, you can be in trouble with your school. But if you’re documented as having engaged in underage drinking, you could also face criminal charges for such an offense. Your record could become tainted with a small action and one night of poor judgment.

When to Hire a Student Defense Attorney

Knowing what next steps to take after facing allegations of student misconduct or rule violations can be difficult. You should hire a student defense attorney immediately to avoid costly fines and possible dismissal, which could mean you still must pay tuition even without earning college credit for it.

Some schools might start with a disciplinary conference instead of a formal hearing. And while that might not sound bad, it could still lead to severe consequences.

You need the advice and counsel from a student defense attorney to guide you in the right next steps before engaging with your school in any way.

DC Student Defense offers reliable legal counsel for students facing violations of disciplinary code or academic code. Contact us for legal counsel for students, parents and school administrators.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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