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Two students sue Miami University over suspension for violating COVID-19-related code of conduct

Students: Punishment is 'harsh and unfair'
Miami University students at an off-campus party on August 22
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 22:59:01-05

OXFORD, Ohio — Two Miami University students filed a federal lawsuit on Monday claiming the university relied on "erroneous" information when it suspended them for violating Miami's student code of conduct related to COVID-19.

Miami suspended the students, identified as Jane Roe and Jane Doe, based on an Oxford police investigation. The party was held Aug. 22 at the off-campus home Doe and Roe shared with eight other students, according to the lawsuit.

An Oxford police officer cited Roe and Doe, both juniors, for violating city ordinances that limited noise and mass gatherings, according to records filed by their attorneys.

The Oxford City Council passed the "emergency" mass gatherings ordinance in response to concerns about COVID-19. The ordinance limits social events to 10 individuals at the same time.

Court records show Miami's administrative hearing officer determined that Roe and Doe violated the university's code of conduct and may have placed students at risk of contracting COVID-19.

"I was not found responsible for hosting, planning, inviting, nor even being outside when the “mass gathering” was occurring," wrote Roe in her appeal letter. "I only came outside pursuant to a request from an Oxford police officer to speak with a resident regarding noise."

Roe wrote that she took a leadership position by "stepping up" to comply with the officer's request.

"Now I am the one suspended from my school," she wrote.

Doe echoed Roe's comments in her appeal letter.

"Perhaps most importantly, the timing of this incident is paramount to the case, as the date in question was Aug. 22, 2020, the first week of classes at Miami," Doe wrote. "Students were receiving limited clarifying information as to the exact expectations of the university."

Clarifying guidance for Miami's policy on mass gatherings was provided five days after the Aug. 22 party, according to the lawsuit.

Roe and Doe both lost their appeals, according to Miami records filed in the lawsuit.

The Appeals Board agreed with the hearing officer's finding that there was "reasonable fear" that the party during a pandemic "may have endangered many people," according to Gerald Granderson, chair of the appeals board.

Miami has received national attention for off-campus parties thrown by students during the pandemic.

Screenshot from Oxford Police Department body camera recording in September
Screenshot from Oxford Police Department body camera recording

In September, a Miami student told an Oxford police officer that he and other students were partying at an off-campus house even though they had tested positive for COVID-19 and were supposed to be quarantined, according to the officer's body camera recording.

The officer issued citations against six individuals in that incident, according to a previous report by WCPO 9 News.

It's unclear if Miami U took disciplinary action against any of the students who received citations.

Miami's COVID Dashboard shows 2,252 students – 10% of those enrolled – have tested positive for the virus.

According to the lawsuit filed on Monday, Miami suspended Roe and Doe for the fall semester and will not allow them to be on campus until January 1, 2021, according to the lawsuit.

The suspensions violated Miami's "contractual obligations and promises" to the students, according to the lawsuit.

Roe and Doe are asking for "not less than $75,000" in damages, an order requiring Miami to expunge the students' records related to the suspension, and an order requiring the university to reinstate the students.

Miami has not responded to the lawsuit in court.

On Tuesday, WCPO 9 News emailed a request for comment to a Miami spokeswoman, but we have not received a response.