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Monday, May 27, 2024
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Policy changes at the Berkshire Apartments catch AU off-guard

The building's management informed residents via email of changes in the building’s roommate release program and allegations that three AU students will be expelled for marijuana possession

AU students living in the Berkshire Apartments were surprised to receive an email from Senior Community Manager Jerald Bowman on March 2 that detailed sudden and immediate changes to the building’s roommate release program. The email also stated that three Berkshire residents will be evicted from the building due to use or possession of marijuana and face possible expulsion from AU.

The Berkshire’s roommate release program is no longer an option for current residents and will not be an option going forward, according to the email. This program had allowed leaseholders to be released from their contract if they found a replacement to fulfill the lease term.

The email was sent to AU students leasing apartments directly from the Berkshire, as opposed to those students who have housing arrangements in the building through AU’s Housing & Dining Programs, according to Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson.

Katie Zombo, a resident of the Berkshire and a junior in the School of Communication and the School of Public Affairs, said she was surprised when she received the email.

“I was not expecting the change in policy for the leaseholders. I had no warning, or maybe I missed an email, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Zombo said.

Zombo said that she thinks the policy change and the little warning given to residents was not completely fair.

“[The Berkshire does] have that authority, but I think that [the new policy] makes it a lot more difficult for students to get housing then, because at least up until this point, everyone I know that does off-campus housing usually will either join for a semester if they’re going abroad, or they will take over a graduating senior’s apartment,” Zombo said.

She also said she believes that the new policy will make finding housing more difficult for AU students who only need to find somewhere to live during the academic year. Getting locked into a year-long lease isn’t what students are looking for, she said.

“This is already short term housing for all of us, so it makes it more difficult to have these strict rules on that,” Zombo said.

As for the students facing eviction due to the use or possession of marijuana, the Berkshire management confirmed that the building has a zero tolerance policy for drugs. However, Bowman refused to further discuss the changes to the roommate release program and the evictions.

“We don’t discuss any confidential information about residents,” Bowman said.

The email also stated that the three students who were being evicted faced possible expulsion from the University.

“Lastly, there are now 3 residents that are being evicted for either the use or possession of marijuana. In addition to having to move out of The Berkshire, they are facing expulsion from American University,” the email sent to residents reads. “I share this so others that decide to violate the lease and indulge in drugs of any type will understand that this is serious and you will get caught. The question should be asked: Is it worth the loss of housing and being expelled from AU if you are a student? STOP before it is too late. There are no second chances with this.”

However, information from a student’s educational record, such as conduct violations and disciplinary hearings, is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The act applies to all schools that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education and specifies that schools must receive written permission from a parent or student of legal age to release the information on a student’s record.

“In response to our inquiry, we learned that the Berkshire’s management admits [to] having ‘misspoke’ about student conduct actions. They have no information to support this statement [about the expulsions,]” Hanson said.

Hanson said that AU was not notified about the email or the changes to the Berkshire’s leasing policies directly from building management itself.

“[The Berkshire management was] trying to underscore the seriousness of the situation when they said that the students were being expelled, but that doesn’t reflect [AU’s] conduct policies,” Hanson said.

According to AU’s Student Conduct Code, the sanctions held against students who have gone through a disciplinary hearing process and have been found to have violated the code are considered relative to the student’s disciplinary record, the nature of the violation and the severity of the consequences of the violation. Potential sanctions include warnings, disciplinary probation, repayment of the direct cost of damages, relocation or removal from University housing, suspension, expulsion or revocation of the student’s degree.

“AU would be in violation of FERPA if we had told the Berks information about a student’s record, but that isn’t the case here,” Hanson said.

Ellie Hartleb, Kate Magill and Shannon Scovel contributed to this report.

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