- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Journal Times, Racine, Sept. 21

Colleges are wise to call off spring break

As we wrote previously, amid expulsions and suspensions at some universities for violations of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we don’t believe that college students should be severely punished for ordinary behavior on campus. As for taking action to curtail off-campus behavior that could lead to further spread of the virus? That’s another matter.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Senate on Sept. 14 voted 140-7 on a revised spring 2021 calendar, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

It eliminates spring break in late March and early April and extends winter break by a week, starting classes on Jan. 25 and providing instructors with additional time to prepare for classes. Classes will still end on April 30.

The idea behind eliminating the break midway through the semester is to discourage long-distance travel where students and employees could pick up the virus elsewhere and bring it back to campus. Spring break to warm-weather destinations - namely, the beaches of Florida, Texas and other Gulf Coast locations - has also been known for excessive partying. Alcohol consumption is known for lowering inhibitions during non-pandemic times; do we really think young people are going to keep masks on and maintain 6 feet of social distancing on a sunny beach where the beer is flowing freely?

UW-Madison leaders floated the idea in late August to the University Committee. Members seemed generally supportive of the changes proposed by Provost John Karl Scholz.

“It’s one step we can take proactively to prevent the spread of the virus this spring,” University Committee chairwoman Kirsten Wolf said on Sept. 14.

Other Big Ten universities, such as Purdue and Ohio State, have also stripped next semester’s calendar of spring break.

The decision to eliminate spring break is independent of how classes will be delivered next semester, officials said. A break in classes would have encouraged people to travel regardless of whether classes are online or in person.

UW-Madison officials are still developing plans for the spring semester, and they have said how the first few weeks play out this fall will inform those plans.

As we wait for a return to normal, heading off clear threats to stopping the spread is the right course of action. We urge other college and universities to follow the lead of their Big Ten counterparts and eliminate spring break 2021.


Daily Journal, Madison, Sept. 19

Big Ten football a necessary distraction

Big-time college football is on its way back to Wisconsin, and not a moment too soon. The Big Ten’s decision Wednesday to play a fall season starting in October is exciting and welcome.

It’s also a necessary distraction for a community that’s had its worst year in a long time.

Fall football is special and makes everything else seem normal - even when we all know we’re living in extraordinary times. The brisk, cool air. The bright stadium lights. The annual national debate about whether or not a Big Ten team should have its best team in the College Football Playoff. Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Heartland Trophy and how bad Bucky Badger will beat up on Minnesota and Iowa. The smell of charcoal and grilled meat. The mindless pleasures of watching a full Saturday of college football.

Let’s be clear, though: Playing or watching football is not the most important thing these days. We’ve got some issues. Primarily, the two P’s: pandemic and politics.

For starters, many of our children, especially in Dane County, can’t attend in-person school now because of COVID-19. The youngest students are deeply missing the socialization that comes from time in actual classrooms with friends and dedicated educators.

Also, to say our local businesses are struggling because of necessary health restrictions and job losses due to the coronavirus is an understatement. We’re at our best when businesses thrive, jobs are plentiful, people are confident in their careers and brick-and-mortar foot traffic is encouraged. We’re not there yet.

And, yeah, a national election is right around the corner - one that’s tearing the country in two.

But those troubles are exactly why the return of Big Ten football is crucial. Fall football for the Badgers gives us something positive to look forward to - some hope, actually, that better days are ahead - even if it’s just for 3½ hours once a week for two months.

Playing football may seem contradictory. Students in at least two UW-Madison dorms have been under quarantine, and the return of students to campus has increased COVID-19 cases in Madison. We’re concerned about that.

We’re also nervous that students and others could gather in large groups to watch the Badgers on television, skirting public health regulations. Consuming alcohol could loosen safety precautions and risk further spread of the virus. We urge people to use better judgment than that.

Yet all that said, student-athletes playing football is for the best. The Big Ten’s long list of health protocols is based on science and best health practices. Student-athletes can decide not to play if they feel unsafe. The NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and, significantly, the NFL have found ways to keep their games going while taking good care of their athletes, coaches and staff.

It’s OK to get excited about a game during this difficult year. It’s OK to have fun. To cheer. To cry. To debate. To smile. To yell in unison, “First and 10 Wisconsin!”

Did the Big Ten get it right? We think so, but time will tell. We learn more every day about the pandemic.

For now, welcome back, Big Ten football, and welcome back, Badgers. We need you now more than ever, even if we don’t really “need” you at all.

On Wisconsin, and be safe out there.


Janesville Gazette, Janesville, Sept. 18

Time for towns to merge firefighting services

Give the town of Beloit credit.

The town is losing its fire chief, but town leaders are using it as an opportunity to at least consider something different for the future of its fire service.

Fire Chief Gene Wright is retiring Oct. 9, but rather than simply begin advertising for Wright’s replacement, town leaders are investigating other options.

A town committee on Tuesday talked with Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes. The committee wanted to know more about how the shared services agreement between the Janesville Fire Department and the Milton Fire Department has been working out. Rhodes is chief for both Janesville and Milton.

Might the town of Beloit strike up a similar relationship with the Janesville Fire Department? Might Rhodes become chief of the town of Beloit department? Who knows, but it’s good to see another Rock County municipality considering deeper cooperation between fire departments.

We used this space before to advocate for consolidation of fire departments in Rock County. We still believe it’s a good idea.

The blunt truth is that the volunteer model that served rural areas so well for decades is now broken. Fire departments can’t find enough help. Part of the blame goes to the high levels of training required for even beginner firefighters. Few people can commit to giving the kind of time it takes to train, much less the time to fight fires.

Milton and the town of Milton, which have had their own fire department for years, are now considering a proposal to merge with the Janesville Fire Department. It would result in Milton getting full-time firefighters.

Rhodes told The Gazette on Thursday he has been talking to the city of Beloit and town of Beloit fire chiefs about a shared fleet of reserve ambulances and fire engines.

Meanwhile in Walworth County, six towns and villages are hoping to combine resources to hire a private company, Metro Paramedic Services, to provide a shared paramedic ambulance. Five of the towns and villages will have referendum questions on the Nov. 3 ballot seeking permission to exceed their levy limits to pay for the service.

The decline in volunteerism is the reason, said Village of Darien Administrator Rebecca LeMire.

Last year, the Darien ambulance missed calls because it lacked staffing. Thirty times the ambulance responded with only a driver, which is not a legal crew.

“We’ve relied on the volunteers to do this big job of responding to emergency calls for medical services, and they’ve done a great job, and they continue to do a great job, but the chiefs have come to the realization that in this day and age with the other things going on in everybody’s lives, it’s not realistic anymore to expect that all of our calls will be responded to by volunteers who are leaving work or leaving home or leaving school or leaving whatever other commitments in their lives to respond,” LeMire told The Gazette.

Elkhorn residents on Nov. 3 will see a referendum question seeking an extra $1.6 million a year for fire and EMS, and LeMire said the town of Delavan is gearing up to ask voters in April for $900,000 for fire and EMS.

“So clearly, something needs to be done,” she said.

We agree.

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