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WVU: Expel students who can’t follow rules

Pulling the plug on the experiment was the only realistic course open to West Virginia University officials this week. Had they not done so, the consequences might have been disastrous.

Already, the state’s most serious COVID-19 outbreak is in Monongalia County, home to WVU’s main campus. The county has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in West Virginia, by far.

More than half the new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed during the past week in Monongalia County have been people in the 20-29 age group. That is nearly twice the rate for the state as a whole, suggesting WVU is the center of the disease spike in that county.

University officials attempted to begin the fall semester with most classes offered in online or “hybrid” formats. Extensive steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on acceptable activities by students, were put in place.

But a minority of students — 10 percent by some estimates — refused to follow the rules. They congregated in tightly packed groups outside bars and at private parties, with face masks seen only rarely. Despite disciplinary action, the irresponsible behavior persisted.

That prompted university officials to suspend all in-person classes. At least for now, all instruction will be online, with rare exceptions including health sciences work.

What went wrong? We know the answer: A small percentage of students behaved almost as if they wanted the disease to spread. At least WVU’s action this week will offer some protection to students who follow the rules.

What ramifications does the WVU experience have for other colleges and universities, both public and private — including those in our area?

For now, we have heard of no local campus-based outbreaks of anywhere near the magnitude of that in Monongalia County. Let us hope the situation remains that way.

Whether it does will be up to students at institutions of higher learning in our area. If they, too, decide there is no need to follow the rules, their colleges and universities should come down hard on them — with expulsions, if necessary.

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