Chancellor Schmidt optimistic in-person classes will resume in fall

Students have concerns about the chancellors plan to return to campus

Michael+Knuth%2C+a+UW-Eau+Claire+public+information+officer%2C+said+classrooms+will+no+longer+be+socially+distanced+in+the+fall+semester.+

Grace Olson

Michael Knuth, a UW-Eau Claire public information officer, said classrooms will no longer be socially distanced in the fall semester.

After a year of socially distanced classrooms, masks required on campus and mostly online classes, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James C. Schmidt sent an email to the campus community, expressing his optimism for in-person classes in the fall semester.

The email was sent on March 3 to all UW-Eau Claire campuses. The chancellor said because more people have received vaccines, he is not only hopeful classes will resume in person but also that in-person activities will be held. 

The email states:

  • “A return to in-person classroom and lab instruction at regular capacity. About 85% of our classes will again be offered in person
  • Music, theater and athletic activities open to fans and supporters
  • Residence hall living as before with programs and recreational activities that bring students together
  • Dining selections as they were before the pandemic with increased seating at all our dining facilities
  • Forums, events and student organizations active across campus”

Michael Knuth, a UW-Eau Claire public information officer, said many decisions haven’t been made final yet, such as traveling abroad and whether masks will be required on campus.

Knuth said one thing that has been decided, though, is classrooms will look more similar to how they looked two years ago, previous to COVID-19.

It’s not going to be a requirement of social distancing and expanded classrooms like we’ve seen in this past year,” Knuth said. “We’re planning for classrooms to not be distanced 6 feet apart.”

Kim Frodl, the medical director of Student Health Service, said she now believes UW-Eau Claire could go back to in-person classes in the fall semester. 

“We’re seeing COVID cases drop in the community, and we’re seeing more and more people get vaccinated,” Frodl said. “By the fall, really everyone on campus should have gotten the option to be vaccinated if they want to be.”

As of March 26, 19.2% of Eau Claire County has been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and 28.5% has one dose of a vaccine, according to the Eau Claire City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 situation report number 84. 

Frodl said there haven’t been any positive COVID-19 cases linked to classroom activities and students have done a great job at following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

Although the chancellor is optimistic in-person classes will resume, some students have concerns about that. 

Nicole Sweeney, a third-year student, said she believes it should depend on how many vaccinated individuals are on campus. She said she wouldn’t mind one more semester online. 

“What’s one more semester (online)?” Sweeney said. “That way, it gives everyone a chance to get vaccinated.”

Amanda Clements, a third-year business student, said the email sent by the chancellor seemed to have wishful thinking. 

“All of his predictions about fall are contingent on people getting the vaccine,” Clements said. “At the time of the email, not a lot of vaccines were being rolled out. There just isn’t enough evidence of COVID decreasing in our area.”

Clements said that although students are doing a good job of wearing masks on campus, she feels the Eau Claire city as a whole needs to be looked at, in terms of COVID-19 cases and how well community members follow CDC guidelines to make a decision.  

Clements also has concerns if vaccines are not fully out by the fall. 

“Is he (the chancellor) still going to approve in-person classes?” Clements said. “What if he puts out that classes are back to normal, and the students are not comfortable with that yet?”

Clements said she feels Chancellor Schmidt sent the email too far in advance. She said there is no way to tell this early. Last year things changed in an instant when COVID-19 first came to Wisconsin, Clements said. 

Audrey Boerner, of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, said by the fall much more will be known about how many people are vaccinated, how that will impact the number of cases and what the CDC guidelines will be in terms of mask requirements and social distancing.

Knuth said the email was sent this early to provide students, faculty and staff something positive to look forward to. 

“We wanted to share some really good news and get it out there early,” Knuth said. “Getting through this semester has been really taxing for everyone. We just thought it would be great to see some positive news.”

Frodl said it’s reasonable to make a plan this early as long as there is an understanding it might change depending on COVID-19 cases in the community. 

Chancellor Schmidt said the campus will continue to monitor the pandemic, follow CDC guidelines and encourage vaccines.