Under the Clery Act, institutions must disclose crime statistics reported to have occurred on their Clery geography. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) included guidance in the 2016 edition of The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (“Clery Handbook”) that indicates that hotels where your students stay while participating in the institution’s program and activities should be included in the noncampus buildings or property geographical category in some circumstances.
Pages 2-25 and 2-26 of the Clery Handbook include an interesting—and potentially burdensome—discussion on considerations for student trips to off-campus locations. This section starts by stating “[y]ou are not required to include statistics for crimes that occur on field trips at locations your institution does not own or control.” It then continues with “[i]f your institution sponsors students on an overnight trip, for example to see a play, and they rent motel rooms, you don’t have to include crimes that occur in those rooms in your Clery Act statistics because the motel rooms don’t meet the frequently-used-by-students criterion.”
As suggested by the previous quote, this section of the Clery Handbook then takes a turn and outlines the situations for which trips should be categorized as noncampus property. The first of these situations is as follows:
- Repeated use of a location for school-sponsored trips: If your institution sponsors students on an overnight trip every year and the students stay in the same hotel each year, you must include portions of the hotel in your noncampus geography. For example, students in the debate club take a trip to Washington, D.C. and stay at the same hotel every year. You must include in your statistics any crimes that occur in the rooms used by your students and any common areas used to access the rooms (lobby, elevators, etc.) for the times and dates specified in the rental agreement. Note that what matters here is repeated use of a location that is owned or controlled by the institution, not the number of days it is used or whether it is used by the same students or different students.
While this paragraph initially focuses on students taking a trip and staying at the same hotel each year, it also concludes by saying that “repeated use of the location” is what matters, “not the number of days it is used or whether it is used by the same students or different students.” With that in mind, a logical interpretation of this guidance is that ED expects an institution to include in its Clery geography a hotel that is utilized by students multiple times during the same year as well, such as, for example, if the volleyball team and basketball team stayed at the same hotel on road trips during their seasons.
The next situation in which a hotel stay may need to be included in an institution’s Clery geography is as follows:
- Short-stay “away” trips: If your institution sponsors short-stay “away” trips of more than one night for its students, all locations used by students during the trip, controlled by the institution during the trip and used to support educational purposes should be treated as noncampus property. An example is a three-week marine biology study trip to Florida. Any classroom or housing spacing specified in the agreement between the institution and a third-party providing the space would be noncampus property.
While this paragraph uses the example of a three-week trip to Florida, it also states that it apply to trips “of more than one night.” As such, a reasonable interpretation of it would require an institution to include in its Clery geography a hotel that the softball team stayed at for two nights during a weekend tournament. However, in this context, it is important to note that the Clery Handbook also states that if the host institution for a sports tournament made all of the housing arrangements (and thus the traveling institutions did not have their own written agreements with the hotel), the hotel would not need to be included in the traveling institutions’ Clery geography.
What this means for you
At minimum, the guidance discussed above requires your Clery compliance coordinator to obtain information about student trips that occur throughout the year. A procedure should be in place to ensure that someone is collecting this information. Once the information has been gathered, it should be assessed to determine whether any of the locations should be categorized as noncampus property. If any of the property is categorized as such—and this is the burdensome part—you must keep in mind that Chapter 4 of the Clery Handbook provides that an institution must make a “reasonable, good-faith effort” to obtain Clery Act crime statistics from all local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the school’s Clery geography. There is no exemption from this requirement for properties that are categorized as noncampus buildings or property based on the “overnight trips” guidance discussed in this post. In this context, and more broadly speaking, categorizing your Clery geography correctly is essential in order to ensure the crime statistics you are disclosing are accurate.