Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis said on Thursday that he would like to pass a legislative “bill of rights” to help stop colleges and universities from harshly disciplining students for holding large in-person parties during the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
His comments came nearly a month after Florida State University (FSU) police arrested and charged seven students for hosting an “open house party” in defiance of the school’s rules for preventing a COVID-19 outbreak.
“I understand that universities are trying to do the right thing,” DeSantis said at a news briefing on Thursday, “but I personally think it’s dramatically draconian that a student could get potentially expelled for going to a party. That’s what college kids do.”
DeSantis didn’t specify what his “bill of rights” would include or whether he would try to issue it as an executive order or pass it through the state’s Republican-led legislature.
DeSantis also said he wanted to block local governments from closing restaurants. A recent CDC study showed that coronavirus patients were twice as likely to have eaten in a restaurant before getting ill.
DeSantis made his comments after hosting a virtual roundtable discussion with three medical experts: Stanford University Professor of Medicine Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, Harvard University Medical School Professor of Medicine Dr. Martin Kulldorff and Stanford University Professor of Structural Biology Michael Levitt.
All three of his guests doubted the need for mandatory school closures and mask mandates, views that align with DeSantis’. The experts also said they weren’t as worried about young people contracting the virus since they tend to develop potentially lethal symptoms less often than older adults.
The Associated Press noted that 20 percent of Florida’s COVID-19 cases have occurred among school-aged children and young adults, according to state health data. Only 1 percent of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths have involved people under the age of 25.
As of September 24, Florida ranks second amongst the U.S. states with the highest overall number of coronavirus cases. The state has had more than 754,000 confirmed cases and 13,794 related deaths so far.
DeSantis’ comments may have been influenced by the August 23 arrest of seven FSU students for violating the school’s rules against large gatherings during the epidemic.
The arrests occurred at a house belonging to the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, a group the university disbanded for the next five years in August 2020 after allegations of hazing.
“The party, in which very few people were wearing face coverings or social distancing, resulted in several noise complaints and underage drinking violations. Those students will be held accountable by law enforcement as well as face disciplinary actions by the university,” FSU President John Thrasher wrote in an August 25 letter to students.
Thrasher said he was “deeply concerned” over reports of other large gatherings that occurred in “sheer defiance” of the university’s guidelines requiring students to wear face masks, maintain social distancing and not to congregate in groups larger than 10 people. The guidelines were communicated to all students before the start of the university’s fall semester which formally began on August 31.
“This pandemic is a huge safety concern for everyone,” FSU Police Lieutenant John Baker wrote in a statement to students. “As police, we want you to be safe all the time. And as a university, we have taken so many extra precautions to make sure that our students, our faculty, our staff are safe. We just ask that you abide by those safety precautions we set forth.”
Newsweek contacted FSU for comment.
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