A sign on the University of Maine campus notes that wearing face masks is required. Photo by Matthew Revitt

The University of Maine in Orono has suspended one student and disciplined seven others for violating rules aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Dean of Students Robert Dana said those students hosted parties off campus, where the attendees did not wear masks or follow social distancing guidelines. He did not say how many people attended the parties, but he said they were not large gatherings and have so far not been connected to any cases of COVID-19.

“I think it will send a message to other students,” Dana said. “I’m sure it will. We’re not trying to put red letters on anybody’s shirts by calling them out, but we are sending a message to the community repeatedly that we have to take this seriously.”

Dana said he could not share many details about the incidents because of concerns about student privacy.

He declined to say exactly where the parties took place, whether they resulted in any criminal charges or what class years those students are in. But he did say the school learned about the off-campus parties from local police. First-year students are required to live on campus.

The dean said seven students have been placed on deferred suspensions, which means they could be suspended if they break the rules again. Those students had roles as hosts in three parties this month.

The student who was suspended hosted a fourth party, Dana said. He did not say how long that student will be suspended, but he said that punishment is usually a full year. That student faced a harsher penalty because of “extenuating circumstances,” Dana said, but he declined to elaborate on what those were.

University officials were not aware Thursday of any other disciplinary action related to coronavirus protocols at other University of Maine campuses. The university is asking all students, faculty and staff to sign a Black Bear Pact, signaling they have read and understand the expectations.

Dana said the university is focusing on prevention, and he hopes that most incidents can be resolved with more education. For example, he said, a group of students recently gathered on a large field where they could observe social distancing. But they were not wearing masks, so the university reminded them that the requirement for face coverings applies at all times in “a very collegial message,” Dana said.

But he said serious violations, like having a party or refusing to wear a mask despite repeated conversations about that requirement, could require enforcement. People can report violations to school officials and have the option to be anonymous, he said.

“We’ve been very clear with students about what our expectations are,” he said. “For instance, having a party is high risk behavior, very dangerous. It doesn’t just put the individual at risk, it puts everybody at the party at risk. We would consider that to be something that would warrant conduct intervention.”

Seven students in the University of Maine System have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday, including five at the Orono campus. Classes start Monday.

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