SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — South Kingstown is preparing to crack down on the University of Rhode Island (URI) students holding off-campus parties this year in the wake of COVID-19.
Town Manager Robert Zarnetske has issued an Executive Order — which will go into effect Wednesday afternoon — that will issue a $500 fine for anyone who hosts an off-campus party or gathering. Anyone who attends the party will also be issued a $250 fine.
According to the executive order, landlords and parents could also be held liable if they cosigned the lease.
Interim Chief of Police Joel Ewing-Chow says the police department will be strictly enforcing all criminal statutes.
“We want to get ahead of any issues with off-campus parties by URI students returning for the fall semester and reiterate the expectations as good community citizens,” Zarnetske said. “If you’re underage and you’re drinking at an off-campus party, you can expect to be arrested, criminally charged and fined. We’re not messing around when it comes to the public health of the community.”
The town will also have COVID Enforcement Officials visiting restaurants and other locations where students frequently go to remind them social distancing and masks are the most effective, and important, tools to help stop the spread.
Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan explained in a statement on Tuesday the steps that they plan on taking as students move in, including mandatory nuisance stickers for parties larger than the limit set by the governor.
Steven Brown, ACLU of Rhode Island executive director, released a statement asking South Kingstown Town Council revoke the order, claiming it is an abuse of municipal power.
“By its own terms, this Order bans any classes at URI or any other school in the town with more than 15 people, no matter what social distancing practices are in place, and similarly prohibits a wide array of other activities that are allowable anywhere else in the state,” Brown said. “In addition, the order’s singling out for special punishment of people at gatherings where such conduct as littering or unlawful parking takes place, but only when URI students are present, is grossly unfair and divests responsibility from the town’s population as a whole in seeking to contain COVID-19.”
URI’s 2020-21 student handbook has added virus and public health informed policies saying: “Students are required to comply with state laws which include Rhode Island Executive Orders related to health and safety, ordinances, regulations and guidance adopted by the University as it relates to public health crises, including COVID-19.”
The university has 14,653 undergraduate students, 1,982 graduate students, and 1,339 non-degree students. URI issued a statement Wednesday morning announcing that they have been collaborating with the town to keep its, “leadership informed of the University’s plans and preparations to welcome students back for the fall semester.”
“This includes strict no-party policies and an addendum to the Student Handbook that applies to on- and off-campus student conduct,” the statement reads. “We are encouraging students to participate in university organized events as part of Orientation Week and supporting those students that must quarantine or isolate as they arrive from high-positivity states.”
The statement went on to say, “The university will continue to work with the town and address any concerns related to URI students, but we have a long history of productive partnerships with South Kingstown and are confident that this relationship will continue this academic year. While URI was not involved in the drafting of this Executive Order, the town notified University leaders of this approach and the plans to issue the order.”