JMU students who violated COVID-19 safety policies could be suspended or expelled

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Cringe-worthy social distancing attempts have been reported on the campus of James Madison University, forcing school leaders to move to online-only learning for the rest of the month and ask some students to return home due to the influx of COVID-19 cases.

“It is so crowded and yes everyone is wearing a mask but you cannot enforce social distancing,” freshman Jacob Boykin told 8News over the weekend. Boykin, who tested positive for COVID-19, is now back home in Powhatan County.

Before returning to campus, all students were required to sign a COVID-19 student agreement. Students agreed to wear masks, not gather with more than ten people, and take measures like isolating themselves before even arriving to campus.

When asked about how the university is responding to criticism from students about a lack of enforcement, JMU spokesperson Caitlyn Read told 8News, “sure, there are varying levels of enforcement here.”

Read said that more than 110 cases of students not following the school’s safety policies are currently being investigated.

“It is likely we will see disciplinary actions come from a number of those pending cases,” she told 8News.

Read explained that the cases range from minor to severe, and that students could be suspended or expelled for violating JMU’s coronavirus policies.

RELATED: JMU student returns home with COVID-19 and stories of what he witnessed on campus

“Those cases are working through our system and we expect to see some very real outcomes,” she said.

On-campus students were all sent home but could apply for an exception to stay on campus, depending on their living situation. Read said as of Monday, 45 percent of the university’s on-campus population has been approved to stay on campus. 

“For some people, they don’t have a home to go home to,” she sadded. “JMU is the most stable home they’ve ever known, or maybe it’s the only place they’ve had food security or the only place they have reliable access to the internet and can finish their coursework. So, we will absolutely work with those students on a one-on-one basis.”

Read also says students can help stop the spread by policing each other. “If people are seeing things among their fellow students that they don’t agree with, that they know to not be safe, that they step up and say something.” “If they hear of someone planning a party, please step up, say something.”

If students don’t feel comfortable doing that, she said they can report them to the university through the “Live Safe” app.

Read said whether the rest of students will be allowed back in October depends on several factors including the case count, capacity in hospitals, available isolation spaces and testing capability.

Some students complain about a lack of social distancing in common areas on campus like dining halls. Read said the administration will be using the month of September to re-evaluate their space and how they can better spread students out. She also said they will be working to increase meal delivery services for students.

“There are a number of mechanisms already in place. We’ll go back again in these four weeks that we’re online and figure out where our plans fall short,” she said.

Read said no students have been disciplined yet. “To move through that judicial affairs process, we need to be very congnisent of the responding parties rights in that process,” she said. “It is likely we will see disciplinary actions come from a number of those cases.”

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