Three weeks after officials ordered mandatory twice-weekly tests for COVID-19, tensions are rising at the University of Vermont, where more than 20 students have been suspended and thousands have signed a petition demanding “more appropriate” guidelines.
UVM senior Alex Hollander said she was fined $250 and placed on probation after missing a test last semester.
“I thought I had another day to get it and I didn’t,” she said. “I think it’s admirable that UVM is trying to contain the spread. But at the same time, I think it’s having a negative affect on the student population.”
Gary Derr, UVM’s vice president of operations and public safety, declined to provide the total number of suspensions, but said the school has taken steps to reverse some of them. He added that it’s unlikely students would be suspended for a first offense of the guidelines, such as failing to wear a mask or gathering without appropriate social distancing.
“If a person had been involved with multiple violations over a period of time and we said, ‘You can’t be doing this, you can’t be doing this,’ and they’ve done it four times now, we would consider an increased sanction for that,” he said.
Derr said the guidelines aimed at stemming an increase in cases, which he blamed on student gatherings. “They were in situations where they were in groups of 6, 8, 10,” he said. “They might have unmasked, they were closer than 6 foot.”
Meanwhile, nearly 4,000 people have signed a petition that argues UVM’s guidelines are “quickly becoming unrealistic.” The petition claims officials have “continually raised punishments and extended the borders of what is considered a violation.”
“New regulations have not only been costly to the school, but also catastrophic to the mental health of their students.” it says.
“In some cases, it can ruin students’ chances at a better future because the punishment of all Covid-19 violations, even ones that were simply claimed by other student and stand without real evidence, is the stripping of scholarships and an instant suspension.
Hollander says students need better access to mental health services and councilors. “The only way I’ve been able to make appointments is by requesting emergency next day appointments,” she said. “Otherwise I’m put on the wait list for potentially a couple months,” said Hollander.
Derr says he and university staff will reassess the twice-weekly COVID protocol at the end of the month.