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The Coronavirus pandemic is creating new and novel challenges for college students, sororities and fraternities in Pennsylvania and across the country. If you are a resident, member, or staff member at a sorority or fraternity house, find out what you should do with a positive test in the household, and how to prevent one. Our attorneys have been practicing fraternity law for over 40 years and have the experience you need to get through these times.
The 2020-2021 academic year has begun and public and private colleges and universities across Pennsylvania are making difficult decisions about how to handle housing, classes, and student activities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some efforts have been more successful than others. At Temple University, an outbreak including 103 positive tests caused the school to suspend all in-person classes for 2 weeks, and then shift to online classes for the whole fall semester. Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh are each using hybrid models combining in-person and online learning options. But they too have had dozens of positive tests.
Greek culture is a key part of life on these and other Pennsylvania campuses. With COVID-19 now a reality on campus, what should fraternities and sororities do to prevent and respond to positive cases among their membership?
Obviously, no one wants to see their frat brothers or sorority sisters get sick. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 needs to be the top priority for chapters houses on and off campus. In addition to the humanitarian reasons to prevent the disease from spreading, there is a question in fraternity law over whether fraternities and sororities could be held liable when their residents and members get sick. Still, the Coronavirus pandemic is new for everyone. The best local chapters can do is do their best to follow state and local executive orders and apply the CDC’s best practices to stop the spread. At Berman & Associates, our attorneys have been working with fraternities for years. We can help you weigh the risks and consider your options in avoiding creating a plan to limit your chapter’s liability. This includes:
As of September 23, 2020, Pennsylvania limits indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people and outdoor events to 250 people, including staff. Local municipalities may have stricter limitations. Because of this, common social events like rush are simply not going to be an option. Our attorneys can work with your fraternity or sorority social committee to recommend modifications to social events, such as holding them online or staggering in-person attendance, to minimize the number of members together at any one time.
Your local universities and colleges are adapting to changing COVID-19 protocols as fast as you are. Be prepared to respond to interruptions when classes close temporarily, and changes to university policy. Compliance with university safety protocols is key to keeping your members safe, and your sorority or fraternity house open.
For example, a party at the Pennsylvania Lambda chapter of Phi Kappa Psi on the Penn State campus resulted in the fraternity being suspended for violating the university’s “no socials of any kind” policy. Yet the fraternity allowed members to gather without face coverings or social distancing. As a result, Phi Kappa Psi will not be able to participate in, organize, or attend any activities or events while the university performs a formal investigation. Our fraternity law attorneys can help you respond to any university policy violation complaints or ordinance violations that you might face.
It is important to plan and prepare for how your chapter fraternity house will avoid transmission of the virus. You need to create a cleaning program that focuses on high-touch surfaces and practices in the house, including hand hygiene among residents, and mask usage policies in shared spaces. Routinely clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces and objects like doorknobs, sink handles, and countertops. Consider using lysol, chlorine dioxide in electrostatic sprayers, or other approved cleaning materials on a daily basis to keep the common areas clean and disinfected.
In a normal year, many residents, staff members, alumni volunteers, and visitors travel in and out of the chapter house every week. However, every new person in the space creates a new risk of infection. Consider limiting access to the chapter house to residents and necessary staff. All employees should have daily health screenings and avoid coming to work sick. You may also need to close or limit the occupancy of common areas and shared spaces within your Chapter house. Consider marking out six-foot intervals in common areas, such as for meal lines or shared bathrooms, to help residents maintain social distancing.
The sense of community and brotherhood in a fraternity is felt most clearly over a shared meal. But best practices say to avoid coming together, especially when you can’t wear a mask. Buffet-style meal service will need to be replaced with plated or individually wrapped service options for students on site at the fraternity house. Our legal team can help you clearly communicate the new meal policy with students and their parents to explain when, where, and how food service will be provided in a clean and sanitary manner.
No matter how careful you are, there will always be a risk that someone in your chapter house tests positive for COVID-19. If that happens, you need to be ready to:
There are no easy answers to preventing and responding to a positive test for COVID-19. By doing the work now to plan and prepare, your sorority or fraternity house can avoid making a bad situation worse, and help keep your members safe. At Berman & Associates we have a team of fraternity law attorneys with the experience you need. Help you consider your options and make a plan for your chapter house. Call 610-565-9696 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.
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