SJGC students should have been notified when their building was being evacuated

FAMU’s School of Journalism & Graphic Communication. Photo courtesy FAMU News

Almost three weeks ago, Florida A&M University’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communication’s in-person classes went remote because of a positive coronavirus claim.

Many SJGC students, like myself, were unaware of the positive COVID-19 case and only found out about it because of our peers.

Sierra Lyons, a senior in the SJGC program, is required to attend in-person classes for her specialized reporting course. Her professor ultimately sent the class an announcement on Canvas an hour before class was to start on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Lyons explained that her professor had to “quickly leave because they needed everyone out of the building due to a positive case from someone in j-school.”

The professor didn’t say whether it was a student or faculty member, but ended class abruptly so that the entire building could be evacuated and sanitized.

The following week ,Lyons was back in the building for her regularly scheduled class.

As of today, FAMU’s COVID-19 team has reported 514 positive cases on and off-campus since August 1, 2020.

Almost a year into the pandemic, there should be a certain level of transparency between administration, faculty and staff in regard to this deadly virus. SJGC students not being publicly notified when there’s a positive case of the virus — even if it’s a false alarm — is not fair to a student’s learning environment. All SJGC faculty and staff were notified of the situation in an email marked “urgent” — but students were not informed.

Since we returned in the fall of 2020 I routinely populated the SJGC building utilizing the many programs and equipment that are necessary as a student journalist. If not for my colleague telling me about her classroom experience I would have been unaware of the positive case within our building.

The virus is of course a sensitive topic. From a legal standpoint the administration cannot release every detail, but it is not too much to ask for a simplified email explaining what is happening in our school.

As a journalist I always feel it is my duty to look into things, especially in regard to this airborne virus. Our current interim dean told me that this information is not up to her to release. She told me to contact Tonya Tatum, FAMU’s lead in coronavirus information and the director of Student Health Services. Tatum – who said she was initially unaware of the positive case claim — spent our call diving into my knowledge of the situation, including the specific class and professor who claimed there was a positive case.

SJGC professors teach us constantly how important transparency is in journalism. It is also a key pillar in journalism to publicly serve your area, keeping it up-to-date on what is happening in their community.

No matter the format, there should always be some sort of communication between SJGC and its students, especially regarding the coronavirus. A public announcement should have been made when the initial positive case was identified. Isn’t that why we have FAMU INFO? There is absolutely no reason SJGC students should have been left in the dark about what is happening in their school, especially when it affects them.