Though JMU put safety regulations in place to lower the possibility of a spread on campus, it hasn’t stopped an incline of students self-reporting and testing positive for the virus. According to the Breeze’s dashboard, since September 8th, 563 students have self-reported a positive case of COVID-19, and 1,003 students have tested positive since September 8th after being back a few weeks.
With there being a rise of cases early in the semester and JMU going online for at least a month, there’s concern that JMU will shut down the university in the following weeks if classes don’t resume their hybrid schedule. This would mean that the remainder of students living on campus would be sent home and JMU’s facilities closed, but off-campus residents would be stuck here. While this makes sense because off-campus students have chosen to live off-campus and follow their contracts, there’s confusion on how these students should deal with this if they choose to go home for their health and safety.
Being an off-campus student can have many benefits during this unprecedented time, such as having your own room and bathroom and sharing a common area with only 3 to 4 people. However, with most classes being taught virtually for the next month, it’s likely that their rent won’t have the option to decrease or for their lease to be terminated as a whole.
According to JMU’s Off-Campus Life website, despite the current situation, leases are legally binding documents, and residents are still responsible for paying their monthly rent to avoid legal consequences. Although this makes sense since a person chooses to live off campus and signs the lease, it’s unfair to hold this person accountable if they feel unsafe living in the Harrisonburg area if the university goes online for the rest of the semester. A resident may not feel comfortable sharing a living space with people when they don’t know who their roommates are interacting with and where they go on a daily basis.
With this in mind, off-campus residents should be able to contact their housing manager or landlord to talk about their concerns with living off campus. The housing manager or landlord could offer the resident a temporary decrease in rent — such as paying $350 instead of $550 for a few months until the student felt ready to return to campus. Another way this could be resolved is that a resident could temporarily terminate their lease for the semester but be guaranteed a spot at their residency when deciding to return.
Another way COVID-19 and the shutting down of the university affects off-campus residents is the factor of parking passes. Upperclassmen have to pay $300 for a full-year parking pass to be able to get to campus for their classes, which is a fair price for a full year. However, if the university shuts down, these parking passes are useless since off-campus students will have no need to park on campus. Thankfully, JMU has begun full refunds of $300, and students will be able to use that $300 for their tuition or other academic needs.
Although it’s possible that JMU will have to move permanently online, off-campus residents are just as affected by the shut-down as residents who live on campus. With these factors in mind, off-campus residents should have the option to return home if they don’t feel safe staying in the Harrisonburg area without having to worry about the cost of rent and fulfilling their lease requirements.
Kylee Toland is a junior media arts and design major. Contact Kylee at firstname.lastname@example.org