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JMU temporarily transitions to online learning as campus sees ‘rapid increase’ in positive cases

Students asked to leave residence halls by Monday

Credit: Heather Butterworth
Credit: Heather Butterworth

HARRISONBURG, Va. – James Madison University will temporarily transition to online learning with few exceptions through the month of September.

In a statement released Tuesday, university president Jonathan Alger said most in-person classes will transition online by Monday. Some classes will still be taught in a hybrid format, including accreditation and licensure requirements, graduate research and other specialized courses.

Students who live on campus in residence halls are asked to return home by Monday.

The university is working with the Virginia Department of Health and will continue to monitor health trends, according to Alger. He said the university will be in touch with the campus community by Sept. 25 regarding the possibility of returning to in-person instruction on or after October 5.

While Alger said university leaders have seen “large-scale adherence” to COVID-19 rules and guidance, current public health trends are “troubling,” specifically a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 among JMU students in a short period of time.

[Take a look at the latest numbers in JMU’s COVID-19 dashboard]

The university has reported a total of 528 cases since July 1. That number includes 15 people who have since recovered. It also includes both students and faculty/staff.

Alger said the university is concerned about the capacity and availability of isolation and quarantine spaces for students.

JMU initially started the academic year with a mix of in-person, hybrid and online classes.

Alger said university leaders have not yet made final decision about refunds.

Read the full statement from Alger below:

“Dear JMU community,

We started this academic year in the midst of a pandemic that has disrupted all aspects of our lives. We spent the last several months planning to start this year with a mix of in-person, hybrid, and online classes. In the days since students have been back on campus, we have observed their vibrancy, excitement to engage with their faculty, and large-scale adherence to COVID-19 rules and guidance. However, we have also observed troubling public health trends. As a result of a rapid increase in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in our student population in a short period of time, the university is concerned about capacity in the number of isolation and quarantine spaces we can provide. Protecting the health of our Harrisonburg and Rockingham County community—including students, faculty, staff—is our top priority, and we need to act swiftly to stop the spread as best we can.

After consultation with the Virginia Department of Health, James Madison University will transition to primarily online learning, with some hybrid instruction for accreditation and licensure requirements, graduate research, and specialized upper-class courses requiring equipment and space, through the month of September. Courses currently offered online will continue to be online without any break in instruction. Classes will take place as scheduled for the remainder of this week unless students are otherwise notified by their faculty. In-person classes will transition online no later than this coming Monday, Sept. 7. Additionally, in an effort to reduce the number of people on campus, residents will be asked to return home by Sept. 7 unless they seek an exemption to stay. The Office of Residence Life will be in touch with our on-campus residents within the next 24 hours with further details to ensure a smooth departure.

Over the next month, university officials will carefully monitor health trends and other developments, and will be in touch with the campus community by Sept. 25 regarding the possibility of returning to in-person instruction on or after October 5. While courses will move primarily online during this four-week period, the university will remain open, and continue to offer on-campus amenities, such as dining, health and wellness services. Decisions about refunds have not yet been made, but we will communicate with students and families as soon as possible on that topic.

We do not make this decision lightly, especially after all of the efforts on the part of so many people to make the campus environment safe for the return of in-person classes. All along, we understood that we might need to transition to online learning at any moment if circumstances required. Accordingly, our faculty used the summer months to prepare for various contingencies, and they are ready to deploy interactive, engaging and high-quality instruction in the virtual space. Also, the university has recently made significant investments in the technological infrastructure needed to support those efforts, such as acquiring a license with Zoom, a leading virtual meeting tool.

To protect the health and safety of the communities to which students might be returning, students who have been advised to isolate or quarantine should finish out their prescribed time before leaving Harrisonburg. Additionally, as a precaution, students should plan to quarantine for two weeks upon arriving at their destination.

This is a difficult message to deliver, and while it is made in the best interest of public health and safety, we know it will come as a disappointment to many. Others may appreciate this change to engage in online learning given the circumstances. As we planned our in-person reopening this fall, we carefully considered the strength of the relationships that make JMU so special, the interactions between each of us that create such a caring and unique environment. We will all make a concerted effort to maintain and enhance those interactions and to stay connected so we can emerge even stronger as a community that has weathered this unprecedented time together.

In the meantime, our decisions will continue to be guided by public health and educational considerations at every turn. Working together in the finest spirit of JMU, I believe that Dukes can rise to meet this significant challenge.

Warm regards,

Jonathan R. Alger

President, James Madison University”


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