COVID- 19 Campus Protocol.

Emma Delk, Staff Reporter

Protocol for what happens to students at Fairmont State who are caught, or catch others, gathering in large groups on or off campus is information that hopefully no one should need to know. On and off campus partying has forced colleges and universities across America to close their doors as they have spikes in cases due to these large gatherings. Parties, particularly ones held indoors, are super-spreaders of the virus. Just this week, West Virginia University announced that it would suspend in-person classes at its main campus due to concerns caused by a recent spike in coronavirus infections. Another reason for the closure, cited by WVU university officials, were several reports of parties held during the Labor Day Weekend when students should have been quarantining.   

While students should follow campus directives, the question still stands: what happens when students don’t? Fairmont State’s Emergency Directive for Student Infectious Disease Mitigation in the Student Code of Conduct that was issued on August 3, 2020, provides these guidelines. The Prohibited Student Conduct related to Infectious Disease Mitigation states “failing to follow any and all applicable federal, state, and/or local public health orders” is not allowed.    

In Governor Jim Justice’s executive order on July 14, 2020, he announced that the statewide social gathering limit is 25 people. As stated in Fairmont’s Student Code of Conduct “All on and off-campus gatherings, public or private, must comply with the most restrictive public health order in place.” Students found breaking these public health orders and University policies will be subject to sanctions up to and including expulsions. In Article 4: Possible Sanctions in the Student Code of Conduct one can find the consequences of attending or hosting these prohibited gatherings.   

The first of these sanctions is a Warning, which is described in the Student Code of Conduct as  “A notice in writing to the student that the student is violating or has violated Board of Governor’s policies, institutional rules, and regulations, or the Student Code of Conduct.” Next, is Probation I, where a student now has an official disciplinary status that is active for a specific amount of time. Any further misconduct with this disciplinary status may result in suspension.  Probation II is also an official disciplinary status enacted for a specific period in which a student is allowed to remain on campus given that they follow certain conditions set by the Campus Judicial Officer or Student Conduct Appeal Board. Failure to meet these conditions will result in suspension from the University. According to the Student Code of Conduct “The Campus Judicial Officers or his/her designee shall determine whether the conditions have been satisfied or violated.” 

Following the Warning and Probations is Interim Suspension, as a student’s presence on campus now presents a significant risk of harm to themselves, other individuals, or property. After Interim Suspensions is Suspensions, where a student is suspended from the University. The suspension will also be noted as a “disciplinary suspension” on student records, and once the student completes their suspensions they may reapply to the University. After their return to the university, the student will be placed on Disciplinary Probation II for a minimum of one academic year. 

The final possible sanction is Expulsion, which is a permanent ban from Fairmont State University, with no possible re-entry. student is not going to be immediately expelled from Fairmont State if they are caught at a party, but all possible sanctions are to be taken seriously.  

The Interim Director of Student Conduct, Jack Clayton, says they take these instances of students breaking the COVID protocols on a “case by case basis, but they use the same penalties for everyone to be fair, equitable, and consistent.” He hopes that the majority of students caught breaking the Student Code of Conduct will only have to be issued a formal warning before any other serious actions will be taken. Repeat offenses, though, such as refusing to wear a mask to class multiple times, may warrant more than a warning. This shows a student is not just forgetting protocol, but they do not want to participate in keeping the school safe. 

Students are able to appeal sanctions, and this starts with meeting with Jack Clayton over the phone or video chat. During this, the student can explain their actions and the rationale for what they have done. Jack Clayton says that students have also done reflection exercises, such as writing out what they have done and how it has affected their fellow students. One can also appeal Clayton’s decisions with an apparel to the Office of Student Services by filling out the required formsIn these appeals, a student can explain their justification, explain why they felt the punishment was too harsh, and present any further documentation or evidence they have for the opportunity to review their case. Their discipline could then be rescinded or nullified in some fashion. Clayton recognizes that there may be “circumstances beyond student control”, and he remembers this when giving and reviewing discipline. 

Students attending parties during the pandemic and breaking other University and state protocols present a serious risk to themselves and others by their actions. Fairmont has been able to remain open due to a low amount of positive cases. These numbers do not come from luck, but from students following the guidelines set by Fairmont State. Clayton says “to think about the community over your own wants and needs”, which describes the mindset all students at Fairmont State should have at this time. The most important goal for students should be to continue to have face to face classes and to have as much of a normal semester experience as possible. Clayton says “We hope the first goal of everyone here is to get an education above socialization.” If all students prioritize receiving an education over socialization, Fairmont may not end up in the same situation as other colleges that are currently shutting their doors. 

Sources for Additional Information: 

https://www.fairmontstate.edu/coronavirus 

https://www.fairmontstate.edu/stulife/student-conduct 

https://www.fairmontstate.edu/files/institutionalforms/formrepo/student-code-of-conduct.pdf 

https://governor.wv.gov/News/press-releases/2020/Pages/COVID-19-UPDATE-Gov.-Justice-reduces-social-gathering-limit%3B-closes-fairs%2C-festivals%2C-and-concerts%3B-closes-Mon-County-bars.aspx 

https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/west-virginia-university-coronavirus-trnd/index.html