On Sept. 1, JMU’s Office of the President announced that the university would take a short break from in-person classes to handle the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. This abrupt transition from in-person to online courses was made exactly one week after classes originally started.
Many students, most notably freshmen, were shocked at the news they had to return home despite having recently arrived, unpacked and adjusted to campus life. Yet most knew that depopulating the campus was the only way to eliminate cases and prevent hundreds of new cases from occurring.
Just a few weeks after sending students home, University Communications emailed to say that the university plans to move forward with in-person classes starting Oct. 5.
To add to this confusing decision, the university stated that students will once again be sent home on Nov. 21 to finish the semester online. This may leave many wondering: what’s the point in returning to campus when classes will move online a month later? This constant back and forth costs time, money and patience for students. How many times must students travel home and switch between online and in-person classes before the university admits that having an active campus with over 20,000 students is unsafe?
There are many reasons that reopening campus is reckless, but perhaps the most important issue is student safety. It’s inevitable that there’lll be students partaking in unsafe activities, such as hosting parties with over 10 people, not wearing masks when in public areas and coming to campus despite having tested positive for COVID-19. These are issues that the administration has no control over and thus endanger students by overlooking.
Returning to campus when there’s still a possibility of another outbreak also places a financial strain on many families. Out of state students are forced to pay for transportation to and from their homes, which could cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Students are also left wondering if they should buy books, dining plans, parking passes or even invest in housing when at any moment the school reserves the right to switch to online again.
Having such an unstable plan leaves students in the crossfire. Promising in-person classes in October and only extending the deadline to withdraw for a full refund until Sept. 26 does more harm than good. Students may proceed with enrollment thinking that classes will remain in person but then end up paying thousands of dollars for an online education the moment there’s a rise in cases.
JMU has vowed to use new methods of containing the virus, such as testing 300 asymptomatic students each week to get ahead of the curve. Although this is a good effort, since the school isn’t testing students before they return, there still may be many new cases arriving on campus.
Although JMU administrators may be pleased with the progress made over the past few weeks, these positive results are likely to change with an influx of thousands of students arriving from various areas throughout the next few weeks.
There'll never be a completely safe way to return to on-campus, in-person learning while living in a pandemic, and JMU should take ownership of this and make the progressive decision to allow students to continue learning from wherever they feel most safe.
Liz Riccio is a sophomore media arts and design and psychology major. Contact Liz at email@example.com.