South Kingstown to impose fines for URI students hosting, attending off-campus parties

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WLNE) – South Kingstown officials are cracking down on off-campus parties ahead of students returning for the fall semester.

South Kingstown Town Manager Robert Zarnetske has issued an Executive Order, that goes into effect Wednesday afternoon, imposing a $500 fine for anyone who hosts an off-campus party or gathering and a $250 fine for anyone who attends.

The Order imposes liability on landlords, tenants and parents if they’ve cosigned a lease.

“We want to get ahead of any issues with off-campus parties by URI students returning for the fall semester and reiterate the expectations as good community citizens. If you’re underage and you’re drinking at an off-campus party, you can expect to be arrested, criminally charged and fined. We’re not messing around when it comes to the public health of the community” Zarnetske said in a press release.

South Kingstown Interim Chief of Police Joel Ewing-Chow joined Zarnetske in a press conference Wednesday morning. He said police will be enforcing the Order and will be patrolling the off-campus living areas to keep an eye out for large gatherings.

“We’re gonna be out there just making sure everyone is masking, everyone is staying socially distant, and there’s no large parties,” Ewing-Chow said.

COVID Enforcement Officials will be visiting restaurants and other locations where students are known to frequent to remind them of social distancing and mask-wearing. Businesses that are compliant will receive a sticker marking them as a “COVID Safe Harbor” and will receive a sticker.

“If we find that you’re at a party and there’s 50, 60 students gathered together without masks and pretending as if COVID didn’t exist, we’re gonna break up the party, we’re gonna take names, and we’re gonna determine whether or not citations and fines should be imposed,” Zarnetske said during Wednesday’s press conference.

The University of Rhode Island has approximately 17,000 students, including both undergraduate and graduate students. Students living on-campus are set to return Saturday, August 29, and students living off-campus will return after Labor Day.

Zarnetske said it’s estimated an additional 1,500 students are expected to choose the off-campus housing option this year due to the on-campus housing restrictions.

“Don’t let a good time become a problem for you, for your family, for your classmates, for the community,” Zarnetske said.

The Rhode Island ACLU issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, urging the South Kingstown Town Council to revoke the Executive Order.

“This executive order is an extraordinary abuse of municipal powers. It goes well beyond the thoughtful restrictions that have been put in place by the Governor and Department of Health. By its own terms, this Order bans any classes at URI or any other school in the town with more than 15 people, no matter what social distancing practices are in place, and similarly prohibits a wide array of other activities that are allowable anywhere else in the state,” wrote Executive Director Steven Brown.

“In addition, the Order’s singling out for special punishment of people at gatherings where such conduct as littering or unlawful parking takes place, but only when URI students are present, is grossly unfair and divests responsibility from the town’s population as a whole in seeking to contain Covid-19.”

Click here to read the full Executive Order.

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Categories: Coronavirus, News, Regional News, Rhode Island