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UT leader warns expulsion possible for irresponsible parties

KNOXVILLE (AP) — Students at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville could face punishments as stiff as expulsion if they are “irresponsible” in hosting big parties, if they won’t cooperate with COVID-19 contact tracing or if they don’t complete forms documenting their self-isolation, the chancellor said Tuesday.
The news comes as Tennessee school officials grapple with identifying and publicizing virus related data in schools across the state.
“It’s possible that you could be expelled from school and I will not hesitate to do that if people, our students, are irresponsible,” Chancellor Donde Plowman said in a video conference.
Plowman also noted five cases linked to an off-campus party last week.
Wednesday is the first day of classes at the flagship campus. School officials have confirmed 75 active COVID-19 cases there, involving 66 students and nine employees. About 6,500 students have moved in on campus, while another 30,000-plus live off campus.
The campus currently has 270 people in isolation due to contacts, symptoms or positive tests, including 51 students living on campus, Plowman said.
Plowman also said students won’t be punished for telling contact tracers they attended a party with underage drinking.
“If students do not cooperate with contact tracers or with filling out the self-isolation forms we will pursue, if we need to, student conduct and, ultimately, expelling a student from campus,” Plowman said. “And why would we do that? Because you are risking the health and welfare of everyone else here.”
Plowman said information on campus COVID-19 case counts will be updated online on Mondays through Fridays.
The state on Tuesday confirmed more than 135,700 positive cases of COVID-19 in Tennessee since the outbreak began, including 1,426 deaths.
While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older people and those with existing health problems.
In other virus related news, Lee’s administration clarified Tuesday that the state will not release the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools after previously declaring officials were working on a plan to do so.
Earlier this month, Lee told reporters that the state was working on a plan “with the intent of being more transparent so that communities know what’s happening in their schools.”
However, at the time, Lee held off from providing any specifics on what exact information would be provided. His administration later explained Tuesday that federal health and student privacy laws prevent Tennessee from handing over detailed case confirmations in school districts.
Instead, the Department of Health will begin releasing information on cases among school-aged children that will be broken down by county.
Separately, the Department of Education released a website last week that lists which of Tennessee’s roughly 140 school districts are providing in-person learning, virtual learning or both. The website also provides information on the first day of school and any closures.
Lee has faced repeated scrutiny over how much reporting would be publicized regarding the virus in schools. The Republican governor has been a strong advocate for students to return to in-person learning over a virtual model as long the districts quickly isolate those who are sick and quarantine their close contacts.
According to Lee’s new school guidelines, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days from the onset of their symptoms or isolate 10 days from the date they were tested.