LYNCHBURG, Va (WDBJ7)-- Liberty University released a statement after Governor Ralph Northam urged the university to uphold rules about social-distancing and public gatherings.
During the Governor’s address he quoted scripture saying “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” He then encouraged the university to provide clear and consistent guidance and respecting its duty to its students, staff, the Lynchburg community and the commonwealth.
Liberty responded saying it has been tirelessly working to protect its students the last couple of weeks.
“We really think it's un-Christian to turn students away and push any problems off on someone else. Most of our residential campus students are not in the Lynchburg area. Only about 10 percent of our residential students are currently here on campus,” a press release said.
The university continued saying students are not in classrooms, not in fitness centers, not engaging in sports and are getting their food through take-out at the dining halls. Touchpoints on campus are also being sanitized several times a day.
Liberty said the Central Virginia Health District visited campus Tuesday, March 24 and did not find any violations.
You can read the full statement here.
Governor Ralph Northam is urging Liberty University President Jerry Falwell to look to other university leaders when it comes to allowing students back on campus.
He says the coronavirus is to be taken seriously, and he urges the university to uphold rules about social distancing and public gatherings.
"We appreciate our colleges and universities making accommodations for students with special cases, but that is very different from inviting students to leave their homes and come back to campus," Northam said.
Northam made the comments during his Wednesday news conference.
ORIGINAL STORY: At Liberty University, the dorms and dining halls are open, with students returning to campus from across the country and world.
"We've become an apartment complex," said university President Jerry Falwell Jr. "We're not operating as a school."
Falwell told WDBJ7 the school is ready, and has taken proper precautions to handle coronavirus. Most classes have been moved online, gatherings of more than 10 are banned, and while restaurants and dining halls are open, all meals are carry-out.
"We're abiding by the governor's orders," he said.
Falwell's claim is backed up by a surprise inspection Tuesday by the Central Virginia Health District. Two environmental health specialists "did not observe any violations" in "open areas and food establishments across campus."
But some students say they still don't feel safe.
"I don't think he's doing what all needs to be done. I don't think anyone should be allowed back on campus," said Alexis Valle, a Liberty freshman from the Lynchburg area.
She worries the university's decision to keep the campus open will expose faculty, students and the community to unnecessary risk. "Because the students don't just stay on campus when they're there."
Valle isn't the only one with concerns. Lynchburg's Mayor, Treney Tweedy, issued a statement Monday calling the University's decision to keep its campus open "reckless." In her statement, Tweedy said she is "very concerned for the residents of the Lynchburg community."
Falwell has pushed back. "I don't know why everyone's making such a big deal of it," he said "Every college has some students living on campus, because there's international students who can't go home.There's some students who really have nowhere else to live."
Liberty's decision to open its campus means it essentially stands alone among colleges and universities in our region. Almost all, including Virginia Tech and UVA, have largely closed to students, and encouraged them to return or remain at home because of the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, Liberty has welcomed back about 1,900 students to campus. That's out of a total student body of 15,000.
For her part, freshman Alexis Valle says she's now staying home, out of concern for her family and community. Despite the fact that students are already returning, she thinks it's not too late for the university to change its mind.
"There's not really much they can do I don't think, other than making the students who can go home go home," she said.
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