Two BYU students withdraw over COVID-19 safety requirements enforced on campus

Two students at Brigham Young University have withdrawn from the school in protest of safety requirements there meant to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The students who left were among the 15 that the Provo university had announced last week would be disciplined for refusing to wear masks and socially distance, confirmed BYU spokesperson Carri Jenkins. They withdrew, she noted in an email, in the middle of “going through the disciplinary process for not following the COVID-19 safety measures.”

The school, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could not identify who the now-former students are for privacy reasons. But it has said that the discipline would include suspension or restrictions from on-campus participation, such as classes, work or in-person campus services. And those who don’t want to go through the disciplinary process have the choice to leave the university.

The issue of withdrawals was first brought up by Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi during a Friday meeting of Utah County leaders, who were discussing the spike in cases there that has been driving the state’s numbers up. As the group talked about possible regulations to limit spread — such as a countywide mask mandate — Kaufusi said she feared what impact being too strict might have on residents.

She previously vetoed a mask mandate in Provo, which was later implemented with an override vote by the city council. Students at BYU, she noted, have similarly bucked the restrictions, like her, and “some have actually withdrawn as a result.”

“We can push, we can recommend, we can scare them to death, but honestly they’re a unique group of kids,” Kaufusi said during the meeting. “We’ve got to figure out what is going to impact these kids.”

She has called, specifically, for a social media campaign targeted to students.

Meanwhile, BYU has seen the most coronavirus cases and the fastest spread of any college in the state. As of Saturday, the university had 911 reported cumulative positive tests among students and staff on the campus of 43,000.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, by comparison, has had 258 total cases with 62,000 people there.

Some have blamed the spread in Provo and Utah County on dance parties organized by the company Young/Dumb, which is run in part by former BYU student Kwaku El. He said Monday that he was not one of the students who withdrew this past week.

Still, while it’s difficult to pinpoint where the infections start, BYU has tried to get a handle on the spread by issuing discipline to those students who it says have “refused to follow these requirements,” including primarily wearing masks.

The school has disciplined students for both on- and off-campus behavior, Jenkins said, that “may substantially impact our campus community” by exposing people to the virus. She added: “We’ve been clear that in order for this semester on campus to work, it will take a concerted effort from all of us, working together.”