Michigan College Requires Students to Stay Within 5 Miles of Campus or Face Suspension, Tracks Them by App

Michigan's Albion College is attempting to create a "COVID bubble" on its campus as students return for the fall semester.

Students are being required to download a smartphone app that tracks their location and ongoing COVID-19 health data to help contain the spread of the coronavirus on campus. The college told students in an email obtained by Newsweek that they must have their location services on at all times. The "Aura" app will notify the school's administration if a student leaves the campus's bubble.

For the entire fall semester, students must stay within the campus's 4.5-mile perimeter or risk temporary suspension, according to the email. Members of the campus staff, however, are allowed to leave the bubble.

The announcement sent out last Friday, two weeks before the Albion College campus is scheduled to reopen, leaves students who have already paid tuition in a tough spot.

The liberal arts college is planning to offer only in-person learning when classes resume in September. Students who do not comply with the school's contact tracing program will need to defer the semester. Virtual learning can be requested for students with exceptional circumstances, such as health conditions.

Other universities across the nation have either closed their campuses entirely or offered hybrid reopening plans that provide online learning options for students who are uncomfortable about returning to campus.

According to data compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education, only 2.5 percent of nearly 3,000 American colleges are reopening "fully in-person." While a quarter of colleges are still deciding on how to resume classes, the most common option is "primarily online," which 26 percent of schools are planning to do.

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Albion College in Michigan is requiring returning students to stay within a campus "COVID bubble" and plans to track students' locations through a mandatory smartphone app. Albion College

Students will also be required to take a coronavirus test before returning to campus, and the results will be stored in the app.

On top of a mask mandate and social distancing precautions, Albion College said in the email that the school is enforcing a three-day quarantine once students return to campus, and students will be required to fill out a form if they wish to leave campus for "approved" activities, including medical appointments. Students who do not comply with these rules will be locked out of dorms and other school buildings. Once they leave campus without the college's permission, their student IDs will be deactivated.

"I feel like I am being treated like a 5-year-old that cannot be trusted to follow rules," senior Andrew Arszulowicz told the Washington Free Beacon. "If the school believes masks work, why are we not allowed to leave if they work? It does not make sense to me."

After Albion obtains a copy of a student's virus testing results, it will be authorized to disclose these records to the county, state or "any other governmental entity as may be required by law," the school said.

The college told students in the email that the data in the app will be deleted once the testing program is over, although a definitive date for its removal was not provided.

Albion told Newsweek that because of the small size of the student population, these measures are necessary to protect the campus community.

"We are a residential liberal arts college—being together (safely) in person is part of what makes our educational experience especially rich," Albion College President Mathew Johnson said. "In a summer survey, 90 percent of the students responding favored returning to campus, and 92 percent said they were willing to fully practice new protocols to maintain public health while on campus."

He added, "There is no perfect solution, and every higher education institution is navigating this in real time. Our goal is to do what's best for Albion students, faculty and staff. Right now, we believe this is the best possible path forward. However, we will be monitoring the results closely and following medical guidance, shifting our approach on an ongoing basis as needed."

Some parents of Albion College students have publicly criticized the school's safety protocols.

One parent, Bambi Crook, has started an online petition calling on the college to make staying on campus and the tracking app optional for students. More than 1,500 people have signed on.

"As a concerned parent of a student at Albion College, I find all of this extremely invasive. I am all for being a responsible adult by wearing a mask, social distancing and making wise choices about hygiene per CDC guidelines, but giving up freedoms and privacy is taking this too far," the petition reads.

"I believe my daughter is capable of being a responsible adult and take precautions to keep her and her fellow students safe," Cook added in the comments.

Albion, Michigan, is located in Calhoun County, which has accounted for nearly 8 percent of the state's coronavirus infections.

As of Monday, August 17, Calhoun County has reported 741 confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths over the course of the pandemic, according to the state's health department.

08/18/20: This story has been updated with information obtained in an email from Albion College to the student body.

08/19/20: This story has been updated with comments from Albion President Mathew Johnson.

08/20/20: This story has been updated with information from Bambi Cook's petition.