School districts across the state must work collaboratively with their teachers and other school staff to ensure a safe and successful school year, according to the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA).
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking input from school staff through local education associations is more important than ever before,” said Jenni Benson, president of the 28,000-member NSEA. “NSEA has been meeting with members and has been in contact with multiple groups to produce guidelines for reopening schools that are best for Nebraska students, families and school staff.”
Significant study, outreach and discussion led to recommendations from NSEA’s Continuous Learning and School Safety Committee that are being released this week, according to Benson.
Tim Royers chairs NSEA’s Continuous Learning and School Safety Committee. That committee’s recommendations prioritize health and safety for all students and staff, as well as long-term strategies for student learning and educational equity.
“Our goal was to determine the best practices for opening schools safely and supporting distance learning as needed,” said Royers, a teacher at Millard West High School. “We know that educators will return to school soon and many are concerned about their safety and the safety of their students amid the coronavirus pandemic. We strongly encourage every local education association to use this information to engage school district administration about the safe re-opening of classrooms.”
Royers said it is critical that educators have a seat at the table and are part of the decision-making process.
On Monday, Dr. Bob Rauner, president at Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln and a member of the Lincoln Public Schools Board of Education, participated in a Facebook Live with Benson and Royers to talk about the recommendations. Also participating were NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell and NSEA Director of Advocacy Trish Guinan. The event reached more than 24,000 people and generated more than 400 comments and questions.
Rauner stressed the importance of wearing masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“I asked our medical community about wearing masks to help prevent the spread of this virus and – in one week – 124 physicians signed on to a list supporting wearing masks. I’ve never gotten doctors to agree to anything – let alone that fast. There is really no debate from the medical community on the benefits. Wearing masks in schools is a good idea, obviously with limitations.”
Since early March, Rauner has regularly been posting YouTube videos to provide information and answer questions about COVID-19.
“This guidance was crafted in response to educator concerns about returning to school and the most effective ways to ensure student success, whether it is in-person classroom instruction or remote learning,” said Fennell. “We stand ready to support the needs of students, educators and communities. The input of educators is critical to the planning of safely reopening Nebraska schools.”
NSEA is also a member of the Nebraska Child Health and Education Alliance. NCHEA, which also has representation from the Nebraska Association of School Boards, Children’s Hospital, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and others, is also working to provide health safety measure guidance for school districts, according to Fennell.