Local parents, students react after multiple UMass students suspended for violating mask policy in photo

AMHERST, Mass. — “It was shock. This all stemmed from a picture taken of three friends outside, they had their masks off for a minute,” said RJ, a father of a suspended student.

A picture is worth a thousand words. For the dad of one of the daughters in that picture, disbelief and bewilderment are just a few.

“They were immediately kicked off campus, told they had to leave – they had an hour, 2 hours to get out of there,” RJ said.

The picture of the three freshmen at the center of the controversy was posted to a change.org petition calling for the school to reverse its decision.

“When the suspension came down, that was a shell shock,” RJ said.

UMass Amherst said the freshmen violated the school’s policy by not wearing masks. The picture was taken earlier in the year when the COVID cases were spiking on campus, the reason for the harsh punishment, according to a statement from the school.

“When positive COVID-19 cases surged within the UMass community in February 2021, the university, in consultation with the state Department of Public Health, promptly imposed severe restrictions on campus activities, including the suspension of in-person classes and a prohibition on student social gatherings. It was made clear to students that those who failed to comply would be subject to discipline, including suspension.”

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That suspension equals loss of tuition and more. Too harsh, according to State Senator Barry Feingold.

“I was shocked at the level of punishment that these kids received. Understand, here in Massachusetts, that if you are caught drunk driving the maximum penalty is $5,000; if you’re caught without a face mask at UMass Amherst, the penalty is $16,000. To me that is a little extreme,” Senator Feingold said.

Now the parents of the suspended students are fighting back, hoping the school will reverse course.

“We just want them to be able to finish the semester, finish the work the last couple days of the semester, take their finals and then be done so that the spring semester counts. They lost out on their room and board. Just please let them finish their spring semester, and then we will take it from there,” RJ said.

Senator Finegold is hoping for that too.

“I always believe there is a 3rd way, I am just hoping that UMass Amherst, who I am a big fan of, will just be reasonable,” he said.

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