The mom of one of three University of Massachusetts Amherst freshmen who was suspended after being pictured without a mask at an off-campus party in March is speaking out about what she views as drastic punishment.
Betsy, who asked NBC10 Boston to not use her last name for privacy reasons, says her daughter was bullied by the school, and the trio's punishment did not match their transgression.
Starting in February, the university was on lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases and students were required to stay in their homes or dorms with few exceptions. After the three students were pictured breaking the rules, another student shared it with school officials. In addition to getting suspended, those freshmen lost their on campus housing.
They appealed and lost.
"They were told no credits. No money back. No housing money back. No tuition back," Betsy said.
According to Betsy, her daughter lost a substantial amount of money -- $16,000.
"My daughter took out loans to pay for school so the $16,000 lost is my daughter's $16,000," she said.
UMass Amherst said in a statement it does not comment on details of specific disciplinary cases due to federal privacy law restrictions, but the university did say that, "of the more than 1,000 cases adjudicated in the spring, no student was suspended for merely not wearing a mask."
Betsy says the young women were also charged with an alcohol violation, but she says they were not drinking.
"They based this all on what they supposed may have happened. It didn't happen," she said.
According to UMass Amherst, more than 10 students were suspended for participation at large and small gatherings on the weekend of March 6-7, when the campus was operating at Elevated Risk during the pandemic and had just emerged from severe High Risk restrictions due to rising cases.
The university said it clearly communicated to students that they were expected to follow public health protocols and what the consequences would be for failing to do so.
When asked about people who say this is what happens when you don't follow the rules, Betsy says it still went too far.
"This was draconian. They were swift and fierce," she said. "This is like putting someone on death row for their first speeding ticket."
Betsy says the three have now hired a lawyer to find resolution so they can move on.
"Hopefully she gets her credits and we are going to get as far away from Amherst as we can," she said.
Betsy says they have made some progress. The school will let the students finish the semester but then suspend them for next semester. Nothing has been signed yet.
There is a petition on change.org that has received more than 5,400 signature as of Saturday night seeking to address what it calls the inequitable punishments handed out by UMass Amherst. The petition compares how these three young women were punished versus the school's men's hockey team.
UMass hockey players were seen not wearing masks when they returned from the NCAA championship tournament -- which they won.
UMass Amherst said in a statement that "it is regrettable that UMass hockey players appeared unmasked as they returned on their bus from the NCAA championship tournament to campus," however, COVID on campus was more under control at the time of that incident.
"This event occurred later in the semester when COVID-19 positivity rates were much lower. The university’s operating posture had been lowered to Guarded and previous severe campus restrictions had been lifted," the university said. "Most of the supporters gathered to welcome the team were wearing masks."