University of Vermont to review suspensions after petition calls out 'strict' and 'inhumane living conditions'

The University of Vermont said it would review its many COVID-19 suspensions after a petition called out the strictness of the university's policies.

482 students have been suspended for violating the policies.

Because of a petition that has gained over 3,000 signatures, the University of Vermont (UVM) said it will review all student suspensions resulting from violations of its COVID-19 guidelines.

According to the Associated Press, the university president asked the dean of students to review recent suspensions.

“Understanding the anxiety, loneliness and stress our students have been feeling, I asked our Dean of Students and his team to review all recent cases of suspension,” UVM President Suresh Garimella said. “This work is done, and students and their families are being notified of any changes in the outcomes.”

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In February, UVM pledged to immediately suspend anyone for missing just one COVID test. 

UVM President Suresh Garimella said in March that his recognizing “we are all exhausted and frayed by the constant demands of the past year” inspired the university’s change of course.  

At issue is the school’s Green and Gold Promise (G&GP), a document outlining over 25 rules students agreed to obey in exchange for returning to campus this year. 

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It stipulates wearing a face mask “and other protective gear when in public spaces on- or off-campus, and in private spaces if guests or visitors are present or permitted, even if 6-foot distancing is possible.” 

The G&GP also directed students to “limit all travel out of state and within Vermont unless essential.”

Under the G&GP, “especially egregious behavior may result in immediate suspension or dismissal.”

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Examples of egregious activities include “failing to wear a mask or abide by physical distance requirements after being asked to do so,” and “attending an event in which the number of participants exceeds limits.”

Non-egregious behaviors according to the school are “forgetting a mask” or “failure to social distance,” which includes an “educational sanction” as a first offense punishment.

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The University of Vermont’s older guidelines punished students with “probation, $250 fine, and parent/academic notification” for a first offense. 

According to the VTDigger, the university inaugurated its controversial February COVID-19 policy by suspending 7 freshman students for hanging out in their friend’s room. The students joined more than 480 other UVM students also suspended for violating the G&GP.

UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera told the VTDigger that 23 of the 482 students have been taken off campus, taking classes online, or have been suspended.

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The petition listed the “violations” for which students have been punished, including a “dorm party, a student using the restroom at 3am without a mask and a group of UVM students carpooling.”

“What UVM is now doing is assigning equal punishments to exceedingly different violations,” stated Rogan.

Shortly after the petition began circulating UVM President Suresh Garimella announced that “all recent cases of suspension were being reviewed.”

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Gary Derr, vice president for operations and public safety, also sent out an email addressing the COVID-19 policy and stated that the university was planning to return to once-a-week testing after March 22. He also wrote that “we will work with [the governor’s] office, and other state officials, to define how we can apply these changes to the regulations in place for higher education.”

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His announcement followed Governor Phil Scott’s March decision on March 12 to loosen Vermont’s policies on household gatherings. 

On March 19, however, Derr said that twice-weekly testing would be extended until April 3. On April 2 he said students will be required to test for COVID twice a week until the end of the semester. 

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Despite sending mixed messages, on March 15 the school did promise students a “full on-campus experience” for next fall. It also “may institute some initial testing early in the semester. This may change as further data and CDC guidance emerge.”

Garimella and Derr have not responded to requests for comment at this time regarding the university’s future policy plans.

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