MADISON, Wis. (AP) - University of Wisconsin-Madison officials announced Wednesday that the state’s flagship school will reopen as scheduled this fall but in-person classes will end at Thanksgiving, lecture courses will be offered online only and students will have to wear face masks.
Chancellor Rebecca Blank outlined the new parameters, dubbed the Smart Restart plan, in an email to students. She acknowledged campus life will look very different than in years past.
“It’s going to be different but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be worse,” Blank said during a video conference with reporters to tout the plan. “I actually think there’s going to be some sense of camaraderie, of being in this together. If we create that kind of culture on campus we will get people to follow the health protocols and respect each other in a way that keeps everyone healthy.”
The semester will begin as scheduled on Sept. 2. Many classes will be conducted in-person but will take place in larger classrooms to facilitate social distancing. Due to a lack of large classrooms, some courses may have to take place in the evening or on Saturdays, Blank said.
Classes with more than 100 students will be held online only, as will many with between 50 to 100 students.
In-person instruction will end at the Thanksgiving break. Students will finish the last nine days of the semester online and take final exams online.
Blank said university officials made that change to reduce the risk of students who become infected during the break returning to campus. Students who can’t easily go home or work remotely from home will be able to complete the semester on campus, however.
Dorms will be open when the semester begins with a reduction in student density and a no-guest policy. All students and staff in the dorm will be tested regularly for the coronavirus. Campus dining halls will serve only university housing residents and staff, with an emphasis on takeout meals.
Drop-in testing for the coronavirus will be available and special rooms will be made available for infected students to quarantine. Face masks will be required in all indoor spaces and outdoors where social distancing isn’t possible.
UW System schools sent students home in March and finished the spring semester online as the pandemic seized the country. Blank said she doesn’t anticipate shutting UW-Madison down again if the virus surges this fall.
However, the university has set aside only about 5% of dorm and conference rooms for isolating the sick and if infections surpass that capacity the school may shift to online instruction exclusively, she said.
Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Wisconsin’s chief medical officer, told reporters during a separate video conference that “everyone has a lot of concerns” about UW-Madison’s plan.
“This is uncharted territory,” Westergaard said. “We have not eliminated the virus. It is still circulating in a low level in the community… . There’s always going to be a risk.”
UW-Milwaukee officials announced Wednesday they will open for the fall semester as scheduled on Sept. 2 as well. Dorms will be open, face masks will be mandatory and many classes will offered as a mix of in-person and online instruction. Unlike UW-Madison’s plan, in-person instruction will not end at Thanksgiving.
Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday that he has directed an additional $46.6 million to K-12 schools and $37 million to colleges to help them deal with coronavirus-related expenses. The money comes from the $2.2 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill. UW System officials say they’re in for $19 million of the $37 million meant for higher education.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report.
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