Official: Nebraska schools must stay flexible with virus

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s education commissioner on Monday urged public schools to remain flexible for students and teachers as they resume classes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt said his agency will continue to help schools as needed while maintaining its largely hands-off approach that lets individual schools decide how to proceed.

In Nebraska, state education officials have released nonbinding public health guidelines for schools and worked with local districts to develop coronavirus plans. But they haven’t imposed statewide requirements to specify whether schools should mandate masks or in-person attendance. School policies have varied nationally as well.

The result has been a patchwork of approaches throughout Nebraska, with some schools returning to in-class learning while others still provide online coursework. The latter has raised concerns among parents that their children are spending too much time in front of computer screens.

“If something’s not working, we really encourage schools to adapt their plans based on what they ultimately think is best,” Blomstedt said at a briefing with Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Blomstedt encouraged schools and teachers to stay flexible in how they manage classrooms to keep students engaged. He said schools should allow online students to have social time and break them up into smaller groups where they can interact more.

In-person schooling is particularly important for children with disabilities because it allows them to interact socially with teachers and other students, said John Wybold, executive director of the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

But some teachers have said they’re worried that resuming classes in person will help spread the virus and threaten the lives of those who are most vulnerable. Nebraska doesn’t have a specific statewide date for when schools must start, but virtually all of them have resumed classes in some form in the last few weeks.

“Teachers want to go back to school, they want to be with kids,” Maddie Fennell, the executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, said in a recent interview. “But they’re concerned that there aren’t enough safety measures being mandated instead of just suggested.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.

Nebraska has confirmed 31,889 coronavirus cases and 378 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the state’s online tracking portal. More than 340,000 people have gotten tested so far.

The tracking portal says 37% of hospital beds and 82% of its ventilators are available for patients if needed.

Ricketts has said he’s confident that schools are safe to reopen with proper safety measures to try to keep the virus from spreading. On Monday, he said it’s also important to bring children back to avoid the kind of social isolation that can contribute to mental health problems. He also argued that teachers are more likely to catch and report cases of child abuse.

“The overall well-being of our children is tied to our kids being back in school,” he said.

Categories: Education News, Nebraska News