Nebraska schools prepare for fall amid pandemic uncertainty

Posted at 6:05 PM, May 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-23 19:15:48-04

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska schools are preparing for a range of possibilities for the next academic year as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim lives and disrupt daily life.

The Nebraska Department of Education already had an effort called Launch Nebraska to help school systems with preparations before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines calling for masks, daily temperature checks, more space between desks and changes in how students eat lunch.

State Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he’s seen huge progress the last two weeks. He cited discussions in the Omaha area, in Lincoln and Lancaster County, and with Nebraska’s rural schools association, which has some 100 superintendents in eight working groups discussing scenarios, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

Blomstedt said decision-makers will need to rely on their understanding of what makes people safe, then work to address those items.

“There are no grand answers,” he said.

As of Saturday, Nebraska has 11,700 cases of the COVID-19 virus and 147 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, said the return to school will take creativity and some discussions with teachers that have not happened yet.

“We’re going to have to think way outside the box,” she said.

Omaha Public Schools has a team preparing for a range of possible scenarios for next school year, said district spokesman Jeremy Maskel. But as the pandemic is evolving rapidly, it’s too early to say specifically what school operations might look like, he said.

Likewise, Mike Lucas, superintendent of the Westside Community Schools, said the district doesn’t yet know “what August and beyond could look like.” He said Westside, like Omaha, is planning on multiple scenarios.

“Providing a safe learning and working environment is of extreme importance as we forge ahead,” he said.