Point Park officials urge students to report any masking, COVID-19 safety violations

Written By Zack Lawry, Co-News Editor

At the end of August 2021, Point Park marked a major milestone by returning to mostly fully in-person classes after a good number of students spent more than a year online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This move back to ‘normal’ was accompanied by a range of rules to protect against the virus—but, less than two months later, not all of those rules are being followed.

Occupational Health Nurse Rebecca Harper with the Student Health Center said that Point Park is still following a mask mandate as of Oct. 14.

“We are currently operating under a mask mandate for all students, faculty, staff, and visitors regardless of vaccination status when inside PPU facilities,” Harper said. “There are some exceptions outlined in the Operations Manual.”

The first page of the COVID-19 Operations Manual (which can be accessed on the Student Health Center webpage) includes information about the school’s current masking rules, and lists three potential exceptions that students are allowed to forgo masks on campus—“when outside, when eating/drinking in dining areas, [or] when alone in private offices or campus residential room.”

She also clarified that there is no difference in policy between students and professors.

“The mask mandate is for all staff, faculty and students,” she said. “There is no difference in the policy. The only difference is how corrective actions are carried out.”

Students who do not follow the masking policies can be subject to disciplinary action by the school, according to Harper .

“Failure to adhere to the mask mandate is a conduct issue,” she said. “You can notify the conduct office or the office of student life for any violations. These violations are taken seriously and addressed immediately.”

Students who observe their peers breaking masking rules on campus can contact Student Conduct to notify the office of the violation via an Incident Report form on Point Park’s website, according to Director of Student Conduct Angelo Gargaro.

“Students can submit an incident report, which can be found via pointpark.edu,” Gargaro said.

The Incident Report form can be found on the Office of Student Conduct page on the website under a subheading, “Submit an incident report.” This page can be found among the tabs on the left side of Point Park’s homepage by navigating to ‘Student Life’ followed by ‘Office of Student Conduct.’

Reports submitted through this method can also be done anonymously, if students do not want to attach their identities to their reports.

“Complaints can be submitted anonymously,” Gargaro said. “However, providing the most amount of detail and information is helpful.”

Students who violate COVID policies will receive a written warning for their first offense, disciplinary probation for their second offense, and university probation for their third offense. In addition, residential students will also receive housing probation on their second offense and will lose housing on their third offense.

As of now, Gargaro said that the Student Conduct Office has not received many reports of masking violations this semester.

“Student Conduct has received a small handful of incident reports surrounding masks,” he said. “However, I would say overall the Point Park community is adhering to this policy.”

It should be noted, however, that this only accounts for infractions that are reported to the Student Conduct Office.

Students’ opinions on the measures Point Park has taken with mask wearing and safety guidelines in response to COVID-19 are somewhat divided.

Senior Forensic Science Major Marcus Holloman feels that masks are still necessary for maintaining safety, at least indoors.

“I think the masks are still important indoors, not only for peace of mind of the students and staff, but because COVID is still here, although less present,” Holloman said.

However, not all students on campus feel as strongly as Holloman about wearing masks. One student (who has requested to remain anonymous) said that they do not necessarily mind others not wearing masks indoors.

“I personally have no preference whether people choose to wear masks or not indoors on campus,” the anonymous student said. “It seems like for many people it’s more about keeping the rules than COVID safety anyway.”

However, the Student Health Office explained that the decision to move classes back offline was not made easily, and came alongside numerous safety measures, including the mask mandate and vaccine requirements for students.

“A great deal of discussion across the campus went into deciding to come back to in person learning this year,” Harper said. “The vaccine mandate was just one part of the puzzle.”

In addition, it was also clarified that a student’s vaccination status plays no role in how the school handles masking violations, as the vaccination status of individual students is kept private.

“Regardless of vaccination status, everyone on campus must wear a mask indoors,” Harper said. “I am the only one who knows everyone’s vaccine status, and I’m bound by HIPAA so if someone asks, I can’t tell a student’s vaccine status. No one but myself will know if that unmasked individual is vaccinated or not. Because of that, we treat all mask violations the same.”

Additionally, she also said that most of the student body is fully vaccinated.

“Currently the student population is about 90% fully vaccinated,” she said. “There always has to be options for students to be exempt from the vaccine, and there was a formal process for completing the exemption prior to school starting.”

Ultimately, the enforcement of masking rules is dependent on student reports. However, even students who follow masking rules themselves may not always report others for infractions, such as the anonymous student referenced previously.

“I believe in respecting other people if they ask you to put your mask back on – you agreed to the mask requirement by choosing to come to this school – but I wouldn’t care to call anyone out,” the student said.