Miami, Florida: As students return to their college campuses this month, Southeastern Legal Foundation continues to fight for their constitutional rights. Today, SLF sent a letter to the latest offending school – University of Miami – warning them that their dystopian COVID-19 reporting scheme runs afoul of the Constitution. The suspect policy authorizes and encourages students to report other students who either have COVID symptoms or are engaged in “unsafe behavior.” Reported students are investigated and threatened with punishment like suspension if the University determines that the students failed to comply with COVID policies and guidelines.
In the letter, SLF General Counsel Kim Hermann advises that the policy offends not only students’ First Amendment rights, but also their right to privacy. The policy includes terms like “unsafe behavior” that are so vague, students can’t know how to comply with the complicated rules. And even worse, the reporting form is so broad that any student can be reported for any reason.
Reporting schemes like the one at the University of Miami are ripe for abuse. Students wanting to stop a free speech event on campus can simply report a student organization for COVID symptoms. At the University of Miami this is even more so because there is a separate category where the school asks which clubs the reported student is involved in. “This makes it easy for students to shut down entire student groups or events—big, small, inside, or outside—at the press of a button,” says Attorney Cece O’Leary. “And when the University itself encourages students to tell on their peers, it adds a force of authority that will almost certainly make student organizations think twice before hosting any meetings or engaging in speech activities.”
As part of its 1A Project, SLF will continue to monitor the situation and remains hopeful that the University of Miami will do all it can to protect its students’ rights and repeal the constitutionally suspect policy.