Actions

NE State Board of Education declines to mandate masks in schools as requested by teachers union

surgical mask masks ppe personal protective equipment
Posted at 12:38 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 16:54:18-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Nebraska State Board of Education has declined to issue an order that would mandate masks in all Nebraska schools, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Nebraska State Education Association petitioned the State Board in November requesting the mask mandate and other requirements for schools related to COVID-19 strategies.

Related: Nebraska teachers union speaks out in emotional press conference; asks for stronger COVID-19 rules

According to the spokesperson, the request was declined after careful consideration as the board doesn't have the authority by law to assign such mandates.

See the full press release below.

STATE BOARD RESPONDS TO NSEA PETITION

The Nebraska State Board of Education has declined to issue a declaratory order that would mandate masks in schools as requested by the Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA).

In November, the NSEA petitioned the State Board for an order that would require all students and staff to wear masks in all Nebraska schools. The petition also called for a number of additional requirements for schools related to COVID-19 strategies and a requirement for the commissioner of education to investigate and report compliance of the order.

After careful consideration, the request was declined as the board does not have the authority, by law, to issue such health mandates. Nebraska state law gives local boards of education the authority to make rules and regulations concerning the health of students in public schools. Therefore, the board believes local school districts have the power to require masks in their schools.

By law, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also has the ability to issue Directed Health Measures (DHMs) that could require masks in schools.

The State Board fully realizes the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on all schools. The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) as a whole commends the educators and staff who continuously provide high-quality teaching during one of the most challenging times of our generation.

Throughout the pandemic the board has supported districts that have mask mandates and recommended a statewide mask mandate in a resolution in November. Since March the NDE has also provided schools with guidance through the Launch Nebraska website, including the recommendation of masks and the requirement of schools to follow state and local DHMs.

After the Nebraska State Board of Education's decision, the Nebraska State Education Association issued the following statement:

“First, I want to talk about courage – and lack of courage. Teachers – and their students – have been courageous throughout this pandemic. Our teachers are doing everything they can to help their students, to keep the learning going, and to keep kids safe and in school. Our state and nation are in the midst of a huge surge in COVID-19 cases and will likely face another following Christmas. The scientific evidence is clear: We need statewide, mandatory safety protocols if we are going to be able to keep our teachers, school staff and students in our classrooms where the very best learning can take place.

“I commend those Nebraska school districts that have implemented mask mandates and other safety measures. The problem is that the state is taking a swiss cheese approach to such protocols. The 100 or so school districts that have not instituted adequate safety protocols are the giant holes in the cheese that are allowing an extremely contagious virus to find any and every opportunity to spread.

“We are extremely disappointed in the State Board of Education’s decision to deny our request. Frankly, the Board’s attempt to stand behind legal justifications for its failure to act lacks credibility. Earlier this year the Board did not hesitate to grant a similar request by school administrators for a declaratory order relieving school districts from many regulatory obligations during the pandemic. In granting relief to school districts, the Board delegated broad authority to the Commissioner to grant administrators with “flexibility” in complying with nearly all statutory and regulatory requirements involving school operations, ranging from textbook returns to continued accreditation. Now, when faced with a simple request by the NSEA – which represents nearly 28,000 classroom teachers and education support professionals – to identify the basic mitigations associated with safe school operations in a pandemic, the Board claims a lack of legal authority to do so.

“Instead of standing up for our classroom teachers, school staff and students, the State Board has joined with Governor Ricketts in simply passing the buck as opposed to taking a firm stand in support of the safety protocols scientists and medical professionals say we must follow to get this virus under control so we can keep our kids in school and in our classrooms. Passing the buck in this case will lead to passing the virus on to more and more school staff, children and their families. The State Board of Education receives a grade of F for this irresponsible, uncourageous decision. Likewise, Governor Ricketts and his Department of Health and Human Services receive failing grades.

“NSEA now turns to parents, community leaders and all Nebraskans: We ask them to stand up for our students and school staff by contacting elected officials to insist they act responsibly and courageously and enact science-based safety protocols to protect our children, the elderly and all families.

“Keeping Nebraskans safe from this deadly virus is the best gift we can give this holiday season.”