SUNY Cortland students face immediate interim suspension if they violate social distancing rules, according to an email college President Erik J. Bitterbaum sent students, and one student has already been suspended.
In the same March 31 email, Bitterbaum wrote he found it “disappointing – and frankly, frightening – to learn that some SUNY Cortland students in Cortland last weekend (March 27-29) were congregating and engaging in potentially dangerous behavior in violation of state directives and the university’s student code of conduct.”
His email notes the university administration had already notified students regarding suspension “for attending parties or gatherings of any number of people while COVID-19 remains an ongoing threat.”
SUNY Cortland is working with the Cortland Police Department to ensure that students comply with social distancing rules he said. He reminded students not to:
- Host or attend gatherings of any number of people.
- Stand, sit or walk closer than 6 feet from another person.
- Participate in contact or group sports or unnecessary outdoor activities.
- Use public transportation unless absolutely necessary.
- Allow people to congregate outside their residences.
- Have unnecessary contact with vulnerable populations, such as seniors or people with underlying health issues.
Interim suspension means a student is immediately suspended from all student activities, including online classes, said college Director of Communications Frederic Pierce.
Normally, students would go through a disciplinary process before being suspended, but circumstances require quicker action, he said. The disciplinary process will still be followed, but there will also be immediate consequences.
“We are trying to prevent them from continuing that behavior while the process works itself through. We are basically putting in a protective measure right away,” Pierce said.
Some SUNY Cortland students remain in the city because they rent off campus apartments and have decided to attend remote classes from there rather than another community.
So far, city police have issued one citation connected with social distancing since Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order went into effect: A SUNY Cortland student was cited this weekend for a noise complaint, said Deputy Chief Paul Sandy.
Sandy said any violations by students will, following normal procedure, be reported to the SUNY Cortland administration.
“Parties are simply not something that should be going on right now,” he said.
Pierce said the student would receive an interim suspension.
“The hope is the message will be sent that that behavior has to stop,” he said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday the fine for violations will increase to $1,000 from $500 and he expects local governments to aggressively enforce it.
Mayor Brian Tobin said the new penalty is a sanction police can use, but they have others at their disposal, including citations for unlawful assembly, failure to disperse and noise ordinances.
“We’re in a different place than New York City,” Tobin said. “They’re talking about thousands of people in a very urban center whereas we’re not experiencing the same level.”
However, he also said City Attorney Ric VanDonsel was researching the possibility of shutting down properties where social distancing rules are being repeatedly flouted.
“We know that would be an extreme step,” he said. “It takes time for us to change habits. However, we’ve had time, and we have to make these changes.”
City police are keeping an eye on social distancing between everyone in the city, Sandy said, not just students. Police have broken up groups in parks, but so far issued just warnings.
“We are hoping people will use their best judgement and common sense,” Sandy said.
“It’s all about keeping people healthy. We want a safe community, and if people are not practicing social distancing and are violating the rules that have been established, they’re creating a hazardous situation for everyone because it’s going to spread.”
Tobin said residents need to maintain social distancing, but also pointed out that at a glance, it’s impossible to tell whether a close group of people live together.
Especially regarding a close group of younger people, “there’s a potential for people to make assumptions” that they don’t live together, when they may be housemates, he said.
“When people live with each other it’s a little different,” Tobin said. “We can’t necessarily make assumptions when we see or hear something.”
Police in the village of Dryden are following a similar approach – using reminders rather than issuing tickets. But so far Dryden police haven’t even had to warn anyone because residents have been complying, said Sgt. Josh Tagliavento.
“We haven’t had any issues as far as large gatherings,” Tagliavento said.
Village of Homer Police Chief Robert Pitman said his officers have not had to issue warnings, either, although they have investigated several social distancing complaints, some about businesses, and others about parties.
So far, the complaints have proven unfounded, he said.
“We haven’t met anybody who’s not trying,” Pitman said.