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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW System Aiming For Fall Semester To Be 'As Close To Normal As Possible'

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Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson speaks to workers and guests before a tour of the Reed Switch Developments Corp. manufacturing facility on Oct. 5, 2012 in Racine, Wis.

University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson is directing campuses to plan for a mostly in-person fall semester.

Thompson wants campuses to get back to as close to normal as possible, by offering at least 75% of classes fully in-person or hybrid. In pre-pandemic times, he said about 80% of classes were in-person, with the rest online.

“I want students to come back and enjoy their college years,” Thompson told reporters Thursday morning. “It’s been tough on the students this year. And I want to make sure we get back to as close to normal as possible.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to shift to virtual instruction last March. This school year, some UW campuses, including Madison and Milwaukee, are holding the bulk of classes online.

Thompson said he is concerned about more contagious COVID-19 strains circulating. But he hopes vaccination and continued testing will allow campuses to safely reopen.

“We want to make sure the testing keeps going, but at the same time ramp up the vaccinations — so that we have a double whammy to protect our students and our faculty and our administrators and our employees,  and especially our students, from this terrible hideous disease,” Thompson said.

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone told employees in a January town hall that getting back to normal this fall will help the school financially and improve the quality of learning for students.

“If we plan for fall in that way, as much as we can, in terms of a vaccinated world, a healthy, safer world — that’s going to give us much more flexibility,” Mone said. “We can always pivot back. But I ask you to join me in getting back to normalcy as soon as we possibly can.”

Mone said it will be easier to shift from in-person to online classes if needed, rather than the other way around.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said Thursday that even if vaccinations are widespread and coronavirus case numbers are low, K-12 schools and universities will likely still have to be diligent about masking and social distancing.

“I think we’re going to be in a longer transition period with continuing to do those protective behaviors,” Willems Van Dijk said.

Emily has been reporting on Milwaukee-area education for WUWM since 2018.
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