After COVID Cases Skyrocket, JMU Goes Online

Sep 1, 2020

Some students critics, including this Twitter user, were critical of a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing on campus.
Credit Screenshot from Twitter

  After student cases of COVID-19 soared to more than 500 by yesterday, James Madison University says classes will transition almost completely online by next Monday.  WMRA's Bridget Manley reports.

NOTE: WMRA's operating license is held by JMU's board of visitors.

The Breeze, the student newspaper on campus, reported over 500 cases on campus Monday afternoon through the online dashboard.   JMU spokesperson Caitlyn Read says the university made the decision to go online after a one-day spike of more than 100 cases.

Caitlyn Read is director of communications at JMU.
Credit Caitlyn Read

CAITLYN READ: We saw a very worrisome sharp uptick in positive COVID-19 cases in our student population. We also ran into some concerns about our ability to offer isolation and quarantine space, and those two factors coupled led us to take this action to immediately de-populate our campus.

Some students have complained of major breakdowns in the university’s protocol for keeping students safe.

RYAN RITTER: I was told that if a student did not feel safe, or they feel that they are going to potentially put others in jeopardy, that they will be able to take an online option for the course that they are enrolled, or the university will make plans to accommodate them.

Ryan Ritter is the chair of the COVID-19 response committee for the Student Government Association at JMU. He's been working with the administration to craft policies to keep students safe over the summer, but he says he has seen a systematic breakdown in policy since fall classes began. 

Student leader Ryan Ritter has been a vocal critic of JMU's handling of COVID-19 on campus.
Credit Ryan Ritter

RITTER:They’ve told me that they’ve contacted their professor and said ‘I believe I’ve been in contact with someone with COVID, and in some cases the instructor responded and said that no online option will be available at all.

READ: We’ve been in class now for only a few days, and we have observed an uptick in student absenteeism. That is one of the key considerations we were looking at. Understanding that uptick in student absenteeism and the challenges that creates for our professors to be teaching in dual modalities, right, that was a key driver in bringing the whole operation online. 

Ritter also said that he witnessed first hand crowded dining halls and overpopulated classrooms with little space for social distancing, and some students not wearing masks. 

Read says the university remains optimistic that they will be able to reopen in October, and will continue to review their policies during the month of September.