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University communities should sue to keep campuses closed during COVID-19.

A gate closed at Clemson Memorial Stadium on June 10th
The Clemson University campus remains open to limited capacity during the pandemic.
Maddie Meyer / Getty Images

The relationship between universities and neighbors is notoriously complex. COVID-19 is about to make matters worse. With schools across the country planning to bring students back to campuses as early as August, surrounding areas are likely to see sharp spikes in COVID-19 cases. Local governments, businesses and individual residents should not be sitting ducks. Now they can and should sue to prevent the campus from reopening or to require universities to implement security measures that protect surrounding communities.

Universities don’t work and can’t operate in a bubble. Students, teachers and staff live off campus, use public transport to get to and from campus, shop, have families with children who go to school and spouses who work in the area. If a campus becomes a locus of COVID-19 infections, the disease can quickly spread to an entire area. The chain effects include the burden of local hospital capacity, the health hazard of medical staff and other frontline workers, which can precipitate economically damaging blocks and aggravate the racial disparities in which the pandemic strikes and how much be tough.

While the faculty is reporting these problems to university administrators and in some cases rejecting reopenings, they are not the only ones who can act now to avoid these consequences. A wide range of individuals and organizations can and should take preventive legal action, suing universities for reopened campuses threatening the public good. To bring these seeds, the parties must demonstrate that they will suffer damage in addition to those for general well-being. Many people and organizations are located to do this.

For example, a local chapter from the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers – trade unions that organize K-12 teachers across the country – may file a complaint on behalf of its members based on the additional burden expected for local teachers. and their students are expected to increase infections at university as elementary schools also try to reopen. School boards and parent associations may join these claims. Likewise, a community-serving hospital could file a complaint based on the fact that bringing students from across the country to relatively close neighborhoods could cause ICU bed overload.

By showing that vulnerable people living near universities, hospitals, workers’ unions and local governments, among others, are likely to suffer irreparable damage if campus is reopened, they should be able to get specific early help. The remedies could range from requirements for taking specific precautionary measures, including redesigning campus buildings to minimize the chances of spreading the infection, to mandates for all or almost all instructions to be conducted entirely online without reopening. the buildings.

Those nearby universities may be able to approach them informally before seeking commitments for schools to take specific measures to prevent their campuses from becoming sources of disease. Hospitals and local administrations could request advance financial contributions to alleviate the tensions related to the pandemic that the reopening of the campus will impose on health systems and other local infrastructures. If universities are not susceptible to such openings, formal legal proceedings may be initiated.

Colleges and universities naturally consider their needs and interests first. When it comes to COVID-19, it is more indispensable than ever that they also deal with those off campus that influence so strongly. Their neighbors are entitled to this consideration. If not imminent, the public disturbance law provides a legal means of obtaining it.

It makes more sense for those who are at risk of being sick or otherwise damaged by university reopenings during this pandemic to pursue prophylactic legal action rather than waiting for damages and reporting damages later. By considering and formulating disturbing actions now, those who live and work near colleges can get a voice on how these institutions behave in the fall and as long as COVID-19 presents substantial risks.

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