CORONAVIRUS

Hundreds of Iowa university students disciplined this fall for COVID infractions

University of Iowa issued 620 warnings, reprimands, or terms of probation

A sign marks the beginning of the COVID-19 testing line and check-in for students moving into campus housing at Lied Rec
A sign marks the beginning of the COVID-19 testing line and check-in for students moving into campus housing at Lied Recreation Center at Iowa State University in Ames on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Over the course of this unparalleled fall semester that forced Iowa’s public universities to tread a fine line between fostering a welcoming college environment and keeping their campuses safe in a pandemic, Iowa State University placed 27 students on deferred suspension for COVID-19 infractions.

That put those students under observation for a stint during which — if found in further violation — they could be suspended and thus dropped from ISU for a specific period of time.

The University of Iowa, which wrapped its last day of classes Friday, on the semester issued 620 warnings, reprimands, or terms of probation for COVID-related violations — like failure to social distance, wear a mask, follow guest policy guidance, and quarantine or isolate.

In total, UI’s Office of Student Accountability took 967 complaints of COVID infractions over the semester — the largest chunk involving failure to social distance, with 434, followed by failure to wear a mask, which netted 381 complaints.

Another 143 reports purported failed compliance with the campus guest policy — barring residence hall students from having more than one visitor at once.

And nine reports accused students of failing to isolate or quarantine as directed: COVID-positive students had to isolate for 10 days, and those in close contact with a positive case had to quarantine for two weeks.

UI administrators weren’t able to confirm all the reports — and 272 instances were cleared of wrongdoing, with another 75 pending review.

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The UI disciplinary response to confirmed violations ranged from written warning to reprimand, requiring an official record be kept with the Office of Student Accountability. The next step in severity was probation — letting students stay on campus only under specific conditions.

They must comply with all UI policies “and any other sanctions or restrictions on privileges, for a specified amount of time,” according to UI Assistant Dean and Director of Student Accountability Angela Ibrahim-Olin.

“Probation will typically last for the semester in which probation is imposed, plus two additional semesters, which will not include summer or winter terms,” according to Ibrahim-Olin. “Students who are on disciplinary probation are not considered to be in good standing with respect to the non-academic disciplinary system for the designated period of time.”

And students who violate UI policy while on probation “may receive more severe disciplinary sanctions, including the possibility of suspension or expulsion from the university.”

UI reported 449 were reprimanded; 73 got a written warning; and 98 were placed on probation.

University of Northern Iowa placed four on deferred suspension — meaning their separation from UNI is “held in abeyance” for a period of time so long as they complete lesser sanctions and don’t commit more infractions.

“If the student is found responsible for violations of other misconduct during the period of suspension held in abeyance, the sanction of disciplinary suspension will be immediately imposed,” according to UNI’s Student Conduct Code.

All three of Iowa’s public universities handled COVID-19 enforcement and discipline differently — like most aspects of their pandemic responses, from how to test and contact trace on campus; how to publicly report COVID data; when and how to shift between virtual and in-person learning; and what rules to impose on students, faculty, and staff.

The campuses also independently decided when to start and end their fall semesters, hold virtual commencement ceremonies, and start and end their spring terms — although all three are bringing students back Jan. 25, have nixed spring break, and halted study abroad travel for the time being.

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In enforcing COVID-19 rules, all three universities leaned heavily on education early in the semester — when tens of thousands of students returned to find a vastly-different collegiate experience than imagined or previously offered.

Students were barred from gathering together in dorm rooms; rarely convened for in-person study sessions; took admonishment for barhopping or attending house parties; and were prohibited from tailgating before weekend football games.

But once images began circulating on social media of students violating Code of Conduct rules requiring masks and distancing, campus officials cracked down — with ISU President Wendy Wintersteen warning of possible sanctions.

Still, ISU spokeswoman Angie Hunt told The Gazette, “The vast majority of issues regarding non-compliance have been proactively addressed through education without the need to resort to disciplinary measures.”

Of 28 ISU students who were referred to the Dean of Students Office for violating its social gatherings policy, 18 received interim suspensions, “which prohibits a student from being on campus while the formal disciplinary process is underway until its conclusion.”

In addition to the 27 who received as a final outcome deferred suspension, one person was placed on “conduct probation,” which is not as severe as deferred suspension.

At UNI, in addition to the four placed on deferred suspension, 25 students found to have violated guest policy expectations “lost guest privileges for a period of time (typically until the start of the spring semester or the end of the spring semester),” according to UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke.

UNI Housing and Dining canceled three student contracts “as a result of repeatedly violating residence hall expectations related to COVID.” Another 68 were placed on housing probation, putting those students at risk of losing their housing contract upon further violations.

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The campuses also stressed that despite complaints and concerns over COVID-rule violations, the campus didn’t find significant spread within the actual classroom.

“We found that most UNI students worked diligently to meet the challenge put in front of them to physically distance, wear masks, and abide by our other COVID-related expectations,” UNI Dean of Students Allyson Rafanello said in a statement. “When our students did make mistakes, generally they were responsive and engaged with staff to address their behaviors and ensure further instances of misconduct did not occur.

“In the very few instances where that did not occur, we acted to protect the safety of our campus community. I’m very hopeful our students will rise to this challenge again in the spring semester.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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