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New Local Partnership Is Working to Help Keep a Community Safe and Healthy

Stone entrance sign to SUNY New Paltz campus with lights on it during twilight hour.

As the fall semester begins, SUNY’s 64 schools have been working tirelessly to craft re-opening plans so that students from across the system can partake in in-person instruction and enjoy on-campus activities. With students returning to campuses throughout New York State, one major element of ensuring that re-openings are successful and low-risk is engaging our campus communities. SUNY is no stranger to creating local partnerships, whether it be for job opportunities or community service projects, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception to this trend, as witnessed by campuses working closely with the Department of Health and Governor Cuomo’s office to ensure each campus plan has been carefully prepared.

A recent partnership has evolved between SUNY New Paltz, whose plan has been approved and reviewed by President Christian and Chancellor Malatras during a recent campus visit, and the local government bodies surrounding the school. The Village of New Paltz, Town of New Paltz and SUNY New Paltz are partnering this fall to Protect New Paltz during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic through a series of joint initiatives, education campaigns, and cooperative enforcement measures.

“Through individual and collective action, New Paltz, Ulster County and New York State have had success ‘flattening the curve’ and reducing community transmission of COVID-19,” said SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian. “Nevertheless, as recent news at larger university campuses in other parts of the country illustrates, we cannot let our guard down. Our students contribute to the vitality of the New Paltz community economically, socially, culturally and in many other ways. But as part of our reopening plan, we have consistently reminded students that adopting a ‘we, not me’ approach this fall is in their best interest, and that their compliance with health and safety policies is essential to protecting our community and ensuring that their fall semester can proceed as planned.”

“We will succeed or fail based on whether or not we work together so that everyone complies to protect us and reduce spread,” said Town of New Paltz Supervisor Neil Bettez.

“The long-term goal for all of us right now is to prevent an increase in COVID cases,” said Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers. “In order to achieve this goal, we must all take precautionary measures seriously and in unity. When safety can be ensured for an entire community, we will be able to return to certain events and gatherings that must remain on hold right now.”

Important information and elements of the Village, Town, and College partnership to Protect New Paltz are outlined below:

  • Most New Paltz students are New York State residents: Unlike the larger universities that draw students from across the nation, the vast majority of New Paltz students come from within New York State, and regions where infection rates have been trending down for months. Those who come from states or territories on Governor Cuomo’s travel advisory list have been directed to quarantine 14 days upon arrival in New York.
  • Fewer students and employees will be on and around campus this fall than during a normal semester: Many students have been able to make a fully online course schedule and will remain at home during this semester. The student population in on-campus housing will be roughly half that of a normal academic year (approximately 1,800, down from nearly 3,300) and 75% of courses will be online. Fall athletic competitions are canceled but teams will be utilizing fields for some training while practicing health protocols. Many offices are operating with reduced staffing on site and telecommuting continues for many employees to reduce capacity and stop spread.
  • Students can quarantine on campus if needed: The College has established an on-campus quarantine residence hall to house suspected or confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 within the resident student community.
  • A Village/College collaborative team is focusing on behavior on tenant-landlord relations in the COVID-19 era: Students living off campus may host small gatherings that do not violate Village or Town ordinances. The Village’s Landlord-Tenant Relations Council is working with the Student Association and Village Trustee Alexandria Wojcik on outreach to off-campus students regarding tenant-landlord rights and responsibilities, especially in light of COVID-19 best practices.
  • Another collaborative team has worked to build a reporting and enforcement process for public health policies: A working group including Student Affairs staff, Village, and Town officials, and the New Paltz Police Department have been working closely to outline a number of new mechanisms to prevent, report, and enforce health and safety regulations among students living on and off campus. This group has also been working with the Tavern Owners Association to ensure that bars, which have been the source of problems in other parts of the state and country, adhere to and enforce strict social distancing guidelines.
  • Students have agreed to follow new health regulations in the student handbook: All registered students are required to agree to new code of conduct regulations in their student handbook. That agreement includes an update to the regulation addressing “Non-Compliance with an Official Request,” which has been expanded to include “expectations of behavior to ensure public health.”
  • Student noncompliance with health regulations may be subject to judicial action: Students in violation of their code of conduct pledges will be subject to judicial charges through the College’s enforcement process and may face disciplinary action including expulsion. This policy applies to students who reside on and off campus, and incidents of non-compliance off campus can bring charges of disorderly or disruptive conduct for creating a hazardous or physically offensive situation.
  • 257-MASK hotline established to receive reports of noncompliance: A new campus hotline, (845) 257-MASK, has been established specifically to receive reports and complaints of noncompliance with public health-related rules and expectations. Callers will be asked to leave a message with their full name, cell phone number, e-mail address and the nature of their concern, as well as the name (if known) of the individual whose behavior they witnessed, location it occurred, date, and time. The hotline is monitored by SUNY New Paltz staff during office hours, and calls will receive follow-up responses as soon as is possible.
  • Comprehensive public information and social norming campaign: In addition to enhanced enforcement mechanisms, a separate team of students, faculty, staff, and community partners, including Village Deputy Mayor kt Tobin, who also teaches on campus and directs The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives, has prepared a broad public information and social norming campaign emphasizing individual responsibility to the community, a “we, not me” attitude, and a Pledge to Protect New Paltz.
  • Daily Health Screening for College students, employees: As required by the State of New York, all students and employees must complete a daily, online health screening any day they intend to be on campus. No one will be permitted into class or to work on site, respectively, if they do not complete the screening or if the screening indicates a possible case of COVID-19. The College will also be providing personal protective equipment to students and employees, per state mandate.
  • On-campus COVID-19 testing for students through the fall semester: The College is encouraging all students to get tested for COVID-19 within their first week of arriving on campus and has partnered with Enzo Labs to establish an on-campus testing center where students will be able to make an appointment to be tested. Students will be able to get prescriptions for testing through the campus Student Health Service, and will be encouraged to be tested regularly through the semester.
  • Limited access to campus buildings and outdoor spaces to support social distancing: Access to buildings and other campus spaces will be limited this fall, as part of the College’s effort to reduce population density and community spread. Indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, including fields and tennis courts, are restricted to student use only and are closed to the general public. Many buildings will be closed or card-access-only, while others will be operating at reduced capacity and for limited hours.

The College’s complete New Paltz Forward fall reopening plan and related Frequently Asked Questions can be viewed online.

You can also see a comprehensive list of SUNY campus re-opening plans and re-opening FAQs online.

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    Written by Taras Kufel

    Taras Kufel is the Manager of Digital Engagement at the State University of New York.

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