EAU CLAIRE — Leaders of the three UW System campuses in west-central Wisconsin stated Thursday they are planning for classes to be taught in person during the fall semester.

The announcement signals a return to traditional methods of teaching college classes since the coronavirus pandemic led campuses to switch to online learning during portions of 2020.

In a joint statement, chancellors from UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and UW-River Falls heralded the benefits of students and teachers interacting in person as opposed to over the internet.

“The opportunity to engage with their fellow students and our amazing faculty and staff is such a critical part of the Blugold experience, and our community benefits as well as we bring back our students for the fall semester,” James Schmidt, UW-Eau Claire chancellor stated in a news release.

UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank and UW-River Falls Chancellor Connie Foster also voiced optimism for the next academic year.

“UW-River Falls is feeling very hopeful about our intended return to a more traditional fall semester,” Foster said.

Frank alluded to the importance of in-person classes for hands-on learning experiences at UW-Stout as well as connections between universities and the cities they are in.

“As Wisconsin’s polytechnic university, this means students can enjoy a return to lab and studio spaces, thriving residence hall communities, and the chance to enjoy the vibrant Menomonie community with its many outdoor amenities,” she stated.

The local chancellors followed the lead of UW System President Tommy Thompson, who wrote Thursday in a column appearing in the Wisconsin State Journal that “... it is time for us to plan to resume as much of an in-person campus experience as possible this fall.”

Thompson declared COVID-19 testing protocols in place at campuses as a success with infection rates now below 1% among UW System students and employees. And with mass vaccinations anticipated this spring for educators followed by students in summertime, he stated it’s time for the UW System to turn its attention toward planning for a return to regular campus life in fall.

“This sort of engagement — in and out of the classroom — builds sharper thinking, contributes to social development and enriches communities,” Thompson wrote.

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in mid-March, area campuses shut down and moved their classes online for the end of the 2020 spring semester. Students returned to campuses last fall and most of that semester was taught in-person. However, a rise in COVID-19 cases that pushed regional hospitals to their capacities prompted the three campuses to switch back to online classes for the last few weeks of the fall semester.

The spring semester is currently under way at the three area campuses with classes taught in-person, but to reduce the chances of students catching COVID-19 while on vacation, spring break has been canceled.