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

NSEA Press Conference
Posted at 5:27 PM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 19:54:57-05

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska State Education Association, a union representing roughly 28,000 education professionals in the state, hosted a press conference Monday morning calling on Governor Ricketts and state leaders to implement stronger public health requirements.

For Jon Kipper's report: 'We have a choice' NSEA calls tighter restrictions to keep schools open

The online press conference was often emotional and included a number of public health measures that the NSEA would like put in place. The union issued a dire warning.

“If the leadership in this state won’t make hard decisions and put mandates in place, our schools will close. Whether or not they stand up and say ‘schools need to remain open.’ Our schools will close. Our hospitals will continue to be over-run and more Nebraskans will die — our friends, our family. And we hold governor Ricketts, the one person in the state who could actually mandate change, we hold him 100 percent accountable for what is happening. I’ve talked to too many leaders who are afraid to do anything because of what the governor says or has behind the scenes said what he will do to them,” said Jenni Benson, NSEA President.

The union released the results of a survey sent to its membership in October. According to NSEA leaders, 6,519 responses to the survey were received. Benson called the written accounts the organization has received from teachers, “heartbreaking.”

Highlights from the survey:

  • 59 percent do not believe the learning model is equitable across demographic and geographic groups.
  • 89 percent of educators in Lincoln and Omaha believe the current learning model is not equitable.
  • 96 percent of Omaha NSEA members support mask mandate in schools.
  • 29 percent of staff don’t think they’re provided enough PPE for themselves and 26 percent of respondents don’t think students are provided adequate PPE.
  • 52 percent of educators say that their district is not listening to educator input as it relates to COVID-19.
  • A majority of teachers said they are not getting enough planning time.
  • More than a thousand respondents plan to leave the profession. The NSEA said that nearly 30 percent of OPS of educators said they have plans to leave the profession.
  • 86 percent said they are stressed, frustrated, worried, overwhelmed

Concerns about working conditions:

  • Teachers being asked to give up planning time to cover for colleagues
  • Planning for simultaneously teaching in-person learners and remote students, which are different types of teaching
  • Classes being doubled-up because of staff availability when class size should actually be reduced
  • Educators becoming ill
  • Administrators not listening to input from teachers and staff.

The NSEA leadership said that schools will close if there is not action taken state-wide.

“When the governor had dinner outside with his friends, said he followed all the protocols, did everything right and yet he quarantined. He’s still quarantined, for fourteen days. If he was a teacher and he had been exposed, he would have been back in school. So, what are we saying, that the teachers are more essential than our governor is or are our teachers just expendable?” said Benson.

A testimonial was read from Paul Timm, a science teacher from Lyons-Decatur who was recently name the 2021 Nebraska Teacher of the Year. He and his family contracted COVID-19.

“I'm improved, but I’m still not well. I worked 6.5 class periods and I came home exhausted with a massive headache. At the beginning of the school year, I had regularly been running three to four miles four times a week. I didn’t go into this thing out of shape, but right now I feel the least physically able that I’ve been in my life. It’s not a good feeling,” Timm wrote.

Benson said that Timm is not fully recovered “but he’s back teaching every day. Every day.”

The NSEA is requesting:

  • Statewide mask mandate
  • Limit of 10 people for indoor or outdoor gatherings
  • No indoor dining, start a “Takeout Nebraska’ campaign
  • De-densify Classrooms; alternate staffing and students’ attendance schedules
  • 6-week moratorium on sports and in-person extracurricular activities
  • The NSEA provided suggestions for administrators to lighten the load on teachers and school staff in order to keep students and staff safe and give teachers more planning times.
  • Calling on administrators to show empathy and listen to teacher. They applauded the Superintendent of Gretna Public Schools who jumped in to help cafeteria staff make pizza.

“We value, we appreciate, we work for local control across the state, but if that local control is jeopardizing the safety and well-being of your students, of your future, of your educators, then somebody needs to step in...and we are asking the state board to do that and so that with their authority

“I wouldn’t go to my doctor’s office and say to them, ‘You know what? I don’t think you know what you’re doing just because you have a medical degree. Why don’t you do this?’ But we do that all the time in schools. With our profession, we have everybody telling everybody in education how to do their job, but we would never dream of doing that to an attorney or a doctor. But we are going to tell the Governor how to do his job because we need him to do his job,” Benson said.

Maddie Fennell, NSEA Executive Director explained that the union doesn’t see this as a partisan issue and that it represents educators and school staff from cross section of the state with different political affiliations.

“Almost half of our members are Republicans. This is not what this is about,” Fennell said.

The entire press conference including reporter follow-up questions can be found below:

Nebraska State Education Association Press Conference on COVID-19 Safety