Universities across New Brunswick are reviewing policies to allow disciplinary action against students in violation of COVID-19 rules.
The return to class this fall has administrators and student leaders trying to get the message out about the importance of following public health guidelines.
Adam Christie, Mount Allison University's director of student life and international services, said he anticipated students would be eager to see friends after the pandemic brought the last semester to an abrupt end.
But he says students have largely accepted the new realities of life under COVID-19.
"Students want to be safe and healthy as much as full-time residents of Sackville want to be safe and healthy," Christie said.
Universities began accommodating self-isolating students in mid-August as they arrived from outside the Atlantic travel bubble.
In Nova Scotia, at least six university students in Wolfville and Antigonish have received $1,000 fines from RCMP for failing to self-isolate. Others have been disciplined by administration, including an infected student who was expelled from Université Sainte-Anne in Church Point, N.S.
'This is a different year'
Mount Allison has been working closely with the town of Sackville to plan a safe return this fall.
One case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the university in late August. It was travel-related and the individual was in self-isolation at the time, according to health officials.
Jonathan Ferguson, the president of the Mount Allison Students' Union, said there is a "little bit of tension" in the community stemming from COVID-19 concerns.
But he said there's been strong adherence to public health rules so far, with masks required on campus and most students choosing wearing them in town. There's also been a noticeable change in people spending more time outdoors in small groups.
The student union is preparing graphics and information and making them geared for student living situations off-campus.
"We've really been promoting that this is a different year and we want people of course to know that there are lots of different ways to spend it that are just as fun and engaging," Ferguson said.
In a typical year, close to half of Mount Allison's students live in residence on campus, but with only single-room accommodations, about two-thirds are living off-campus this fall.
Reviewing codes of conduct
St. Thomas University in Fredericton reviewed its non-academic policy and determined there was enough scope to act if a situation arose. The code allows for students to represent themselves and speak to any misconduct.
Spokesperson Jeffrey Carleton said the policy applies to students on and off campus.
The university sent out a survey when planning for the fall semester which identified health and safety as the top student priority.
Courses this semester are being delivered remotely with some optional, in-person activities.
"We've been generally pleased with how students have responded to the seriousness of this situation," Carleton said.
Mount Allison added an appendix to its student code of conduct which addresses health safety measures and procedures. It includes a COVID-19 conduct panel to deal specifically with any violations of university measures.
Christie said the RCMP would typically be responsible for enforcing behaviour of students while off campus, but the policy changes leave the door open for discipline if needed.
"We said that if students' off-campus conduct does adversely affect the health and safety of Mount A's on-campus community then action is permitted under the code," he said.
The Mount Allison student union was consulted on the decision and supports the change.
The University of New Brunswick updated its student code of conduct to include compliance with COVID-19 measures on campus.
Spokesperson Paisley Sibbald said students, faculty and staff are required to complete an online safety orientation before returning to campus, which include provincial health rules.
Sean Mackenzie, the president of UNB Student Union, sits on the university's bi-campus response team. The student union was asked to help promote education on public health guidelines.
"We don't want to have things in New Brunswick go back phases because then we will have even more restrictions," he said.