Following 30 disciplinary actions against SUNY Cortland students and several reports of large gatherings of students, college President Eric Bitterbaum has told students to straighten up and follow coronavirus guidelines or leave the college.
“Your choice is simple: Cover up, or pack up,” the letter begins. “Make no mistake, SUNY Cortland will rigorously enforce all of its safeguards against the spread of COVID-19. We will take swift action against students who host gatherings in their residence halls or off campus, and those students will be facing suspension.”
Cortland City Police Lt. David Guerrera said officers responded around 11:40 p.m. Tuesday to Beaudry Park for a large gathering. When police arrived, they estimated that 20 to 30 students “took off scattering.”
“We stopped and detained two of them and later identified two others,” he said.
Those students were ticketed for trespass in a city park after hours.
He said all of the information regarding that information was forwarded to the college. He also said the department has received other complaints about gatherings and house parties, but they have all been unfounded.
However, college Communications Director Fred Pierce said the letter was not triggered by a specific gathering or a positive case on campus, but rather what is being seen at other colleges across the state.
SUNY Plattsburgh has suspended 43 students over guideline violations, Syracuse University suspended 23 and several colleges have begun reporting positive cases.
“We are moving students on campus in phases, so there are a lot of freshmen on campus who were basically doing the things freshmen always do — walking around in big groups as they get to know campus and each other,” Pierce said in an email. “The violations were mainly for things that normally wouldn’t be a problem, like visiting a residence hall other than your own. The vast majority of students appear to be trying to follow the rules, but there is a learning curve. The administration issued a strong message in an effort to shorten that curve.”
This letter comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today guidelines for colleges for positive cases.
“We’ve seen troubling reports of students congregating on college campuses, so we are setting a threshold that says if colleges have 100 cases, or if the number of cases equal 5% of their population or more, they must go to remote learning for two weeks, at which time we will reassess the situation,” Cuomo said in a release today. “We should anticipate clusters and that’s what we’re seeing. Be prepared for it, get ahead of it.”
If the schools reach 5% or 100 positive cases, the school must return to remote learning for two weeks. After that the local health department will make a determination on whether the college can contain the number of cases. If not, the college will continue remote learning or “impose other mitigation measures,” the release states.
Extracurricular activities, including sports, would cease and dining would become takeout only.
If positive cases are seen in only certain areas of campus, but the campus remains below 5% or 100 cases but the college is strained with handling those cases then the college must also return to remote learning with limited on-campus activities, states the release.
Here is the letter from Bitterbaum:
SUNY Cortland students,
Your choice is simple: Cover up, or pack up.
Make no mistake, SUNY Cortland will rigorously enforce all of its safeguards against the spread of COVID-19. We will take swift action against students who host gatherings in their residence halls or off campus, and those students will be facing suspension.
We are not being harsh. The reality is, students who don’t exhibit safe behavior are a threat to themselves, their 6,800 fellow students, faculty, staff, and residents in the Cortland region.
Only four days after freshman students began arriving, nearly 30 students have already been charged with disciplinary violations and at least one has tested positive for COVID-19. We have received reports of students gathering in large groups and not wearing masks. Although we believe education is more effective than punishment, blatant disregard for these rules could leave us no choice. SUNY Plattsburgh, for example, has already suspended 43 students for violating safeguards. Syracuse University recently suspended 23.
Please understand that the stakes are literally life and death. You do not want to be the person whose recklessness leads to an outbreak that sickens, or even kills, people who may be more vulnerable to the illness than you are. You do not want to be the person whose inability to sacrifice for 14 weeks forces the entire university to shut down and move to remote learning.
We understand that what colleges and universities are asking of students this fall is difficult. Masks are uncomfortable. You long for the social campus experience you’ve been imagining, and you are disappointed and bored. We need you to give it time. As more students move back, as classes and activities begin, as you learn new ways to meet and interact with people, things will get better. The key is cooperation.
If you feel you cannot abide by these rules, if you insist on challenging staff, faculty or fellow students who ask you to follow guidelines, then frankly, this may not be the right time for you to be a SUNY Cortland student. Please don’t force us to make that decision for you.
Act smart, be safe and stay strong.