Student Codes of Conduct Changes Due to COVID-19

The United States and the rest of the world have undergone vast changes while facing unpredictable circumstances in 2020. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has caused entire industries to fully change their operations in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus.

Of course, institutions of higher education are not exempt from these changes. While many businesses and industries were forced to adapt on the go, institutions of higher education have had the opportunity to have at least some preparation for the 2020-2021 school year. This has resulted in many institutions updating their Student Codes of Conduct to combat the new reality that the world is facing.

Disciplinary measures due to violations of Student Codes of Conduct range in their severity. In minor cases, violations may result in only a warning from the institution. However, more serious cases can result in probation, suspension, removal from campus, or even expulsion from the University. In order to avoid facing disciplinary measures from their institutions, students should make themselves aware of any updates to their institution’s Student Code of Conduct.

How Institutions of Higher Education Are Adapting to COVID-19

Schools, colleges and universities across the nation are uniquely vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID-19 in their population without extensive precautions. These institutions have a high number of students that can be concentrated into relatively small geographical areas with dense populations. In addition to classrooms and lecture halls that can hold hundreds of students at a time, student housing options can put students in close living situations with hundreds or even thousands of fellow students. 

Due to these learning and living conditions that are inherent at these institutions, the institutions have developed plans and procedures to adapt to the conditions created by COVID-19. These changes include the vast majority of schools adopting new manners of operations, including fully online curriculums where students will not be on campus, and hybrid curriculums where only classes with a small number of students can be held in-person.

In addition to the changes in the classroom, academic buildings where large numbers of students would gather now must adhere to social distancing requirements. This includes limiting the number of students that can utilize study spaces, such as libraries and lobbies where students would usually gather. 

Dining options for students are also being altered to adhere to social distancing standards. This means that many options that allowed students to dine in large cafeterias with all-you-can-eat options will now change to to-go options. This will vary by school, so students should research their individual school’s dining plan if they intend to return to campus.

Changes to Student Codes of Conduct due to COVID-19

Another aspect of student life that will undergo changes in response to COVID-19 is the Student Codes of Conduct that students must adhere to. These codes are put in place to create a safe environment for students at colleges and universities, making it natural that the codes would adopt new measures to ensure public safety during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Over the summer, many universities informed students via email that their Student Codes of Conduct had been updated to reflect the changed circumstances due to COVID-19. Some schools have updated their Codes stating that students must adhere to federal and state governments, without explicitly mentioning COVID-19. This gives schools more flexibility in their Codes, as those Codes would simply evolve along with the changing government-imposed guidelines.

Other schools have been more explicit when updating their Student Codes of Conduct, where they have added addendums to their Codes that are fully dedicated to COVID-19. These addendums provide protocols and policies that students must adhere to specifically regarding the virus. 

As each institution’s Codes will differ, it is important that students research their specific institution’s code. A violation of these new codes may result in the student being restricted in their use of campus facilities, and even suspension or expulsion in serious cases. Many schools are also offering, and in some cases mandating, training to assist students in adhering to guidelines and Codes of Conduct.

Student Pledges to Adhere to Guidelines

In addition to changes to the Student Codes of Conduct, many institutions are requiring students to sign pledges where students will promise they will not engage in behavior that is contrary to the institutions’ and governments’ health policies. While the contents of the pledge will vary by institution, the University of Pittsburgh’s version is a good example and includes students ensuring that they will:

  • Wear a mask in public spaces
  • Self-quarantine if experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if exposed to someone else that is ill or that has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Practice proper personal hygiene (such as washing hands and covering your mouth while coughing/sneezing)
  • Avoid large social gatherings

As these pledges are being treated as contracts by some schools, students can also be subjected to disciplinary action for violation of the pledges.

Many schools are also urging their students to be “active bystanders.” This means that if a student witnesses another student not adhering to the Student Code of Conduct or any federal, state, or local guidelines, the student should either interject and talk to the other student or report that student to the school.

Proceedings for Violations of Student Codes of Conduct

As both the federal and state governments have urged teleworking when possible, the vast majority of student conduct offices have transitioned into a virtual workspace. This has resulted in another major change to how institutions of higher education are adapting to the COVID-19 outbreak: proceedings for violations of the Student Code of Conduct will now be done virtually.

Prior to COVID-19, proceedings for violations were generally held in front of a decision-making body of faculty, administrators, and often other students. These proceedings can often be very intimidating for students for a couple of reasons:

  • First, there is a lot at stake for students. Even in minor cases, students could still face probation that could limit their sense of freedom. In serious cases, students could be facing a real possibility of being removed from the school. 
  • Second, there is a relatively low standard of proof of guilt in student conduct cases. While criminal cases in the United States have a guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, student conduct cases only have a standard of proving guilt by “a preponderance of the evidence.” This means that the institution must only prove that it was more likely than not that the student had committed the alleged violation. 

With virtual proceedings, this standard can be difficult to overcome. If physical evidence can be used to bolster a student’s case, it might be difficult to use this evidence to its full extent. It can also be difficult to express emotion in a virtual settings, which can take away a major part of a student’s case.

These factors make it even important for students to make themselves aware of their school’s Code of Conduct in order to avoid facing these virtual proceedings. It also makes it more vital that students seek legal counsel prior to these proceedings, as counsel can inform students of their rights and assist in building the student’s case.

Students That Are Not On Campus

It is important to note that just because a student is not physically on campus, it does not exempt them from complying with the institution’s code of conduct. If an action from a student is reported to the institution and the institution deems that action to violate the Code and also poses a threat to members of the institution’s community, then the student can still be liable to discipline.

What Students Should Do for the New Codes

While this might seem obvious to some, the first thing students should do is actually familiarize themselves with the updated Student Codes of Conduct. Any changes to the codes will likely be emailed to students’ university emails, and students should be on the lookout for any updates. Many students disregard these emails as spam, but especially in times of uncertainty, students should be diligent to read all communication from their university.

As many of the institutions’ new policies and practices are being initiated due to federal and state government guidelines, such as limited library use and to-go dining options, students disregarding these policies might subject themselves to discipline for their violations. This makes it vital that students research their school’s new policies, even if it is not explicitly clear that these policies are part of an updated Student Code of Conduct. 

It is important for students to note that as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, the Student Codes of Conduct may also evolve with the outbreak. Throughout the Fall semester, students must continue to read all university communications in order to keep up to date with university requirements. 

Most importantly, students must practice personal responsibility. Students should wear masks in public spaces, practice proper social distancing, and respect their fellow students and professors.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Pennsylvania Student Conduct Attorney

If you or someone you know has been given sanctions for a violation of a student code during COVID-19, you should call attorney Robert Disney today. Mr. Disney is a skilled and knowledgeable student conduct attorney. Call or text Mr. Disney at 412-999-5765 or visit us online at to schedule a free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal options to contest or appeal a student conduct violation.