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Lincoln teachers union releases statement on possible reopening of schools

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Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 8:47 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Lincoln Education Association released a statement on Thursday regarding the plan for Lincoln Public School students to return to in-person class this fall.

The Lincoln Education Association, the teachers union for local LPS teachers, represents roughly 2,300 staff members in LPS.

In mid-June, LPS announced it plans to have all students return to class on August 12. The district stated it will operate based on the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department’s risk dial, which ranges from red (severe risk of COVID-19 spread) to green (low risk of COVID-19 spread).

Currently, the risk dial sits in the orange range, the second-highest category.

“While we applaud the district’s efforts to craft plans in consultation with health professionals and with the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department, we are particularly troubled by the recent upswing in COVID cases in Lancaster County,” the Lincoln Education Association said in a release.

LPS’ initial plan adds and reduces restrictions based on where the risk dial is at. If it is in the red, all buildings are closed and remote learning takes place. In orange, students in K-8 will attend in person, however grades 9-12 may have to reduce the number of students in buildings at one time if distancing can’t be achieved.

In yellow, all students attend in person, but special arrangements will be made for students unable to attend in person.

When in green, schools operate as normal. Masks are being required in all categories outside of green.

The Lincoln Education Association released a statement saying the green range is the only category that should be considered for in-person classes.

“Our preference would be for a delayed reopening of school buildings until we are firmly in the green range on the COVID risk dial, or until we have 14 days with no new cases. In the meantime, students can be served in a remote learning environment, and because we have had more time to design and implement more robust remote learning plans, we could feel confident of delivering educational value to our students,” the statement reads in part.

The LEA also said LPS could consider a plan other than full-capacity reopening, such as a staggering attendance.

“We are professional educators who have devoted ourselves to other people’s children. We cannot in good conscience go along with a full reopening of school buildings without first standing up for the health and safety of children and families, including our own, and without asking for a plan that better protects the health and safety of thousands of LPS staff who will be the ones on the front lines and who will be the most vulnerable.”

Lincoln Public Schools released the following statement in response:

“We are aware the Lincoln Education Association Board released a statement prior to our announcement on July 21. We recognize the concerns associated with the start of school. The health and safety of our staff, students and community are one of our top priorities. This is why we continue to collaborate with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department to address all of these concerns and plan for every possibility for the school year.”

The full release from the LEA is below:

“The Board of Directors of the Lincoln Education Association, which represents approximately 2,300 certificated staff in Lincoln Public Schools, expresses this statement of concern regarding the announced plan for the full reopening of schools in LPS in August 2020. While we applaud the district’s efforts to craft plans in consultation with health professionals and with the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department, we are particularly troubled by the recent upswing in COVID cases in Lancaster County. Rather than trending lower, our community spread of COVID is clearly increasing. In a recent article in the New York Times, we learned: Since May, the C.D.C. website has cautioned that full reopening would be “highest risk,” and that in both K-12 and higher education settings, the more people interact, “and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of Covid-19 spread.”

The “lowest risk,” the guidelines say, would be for students and teachers to attend virtual-only classes — an option the administration this week began a full-court press against. (New York Times, July 10, 2020, “As Trump Demanded Schools Reopen, His Experts Warned of ‘Highest Risk’ " Additionally, it appears that the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department’s COVID Risk Dial Recommendations contain guidance that is contrary to a full reopening of schools. Details can be accessed here: https://lincoln.ne.gov/city/covid19/ Specifically, the LLCHD guidelines for the “orange” category (in which our county now resides) calls for the following practices to be followed outside the home in work, social, and in public:

  • Stay at home unless traveling for work, medical care, or food
  • Distance at least 6 feet from anyone outside the home
  • Work from home if possible
  • Individual outdoor activities such as walking, biking, etc. are acceptable
  • Smallest number of contacts feasible
  • No large gatherings or events, no more than 10 people However, the Lincoln Public Schools plan for the “orange” category states.
  • All students in grades Pre-K through 8 (elementary and middle schools) will attend school in person.
  • In high schools (grades 9-12) we plan to continue with 100 percent of students attending in person. However, if required to meet physical distancing directives, it MAY be necessary to reduce the number of students in grades 9- 12 in the building at one time by utilizing a rotating schedule. If this is the case, additional details on the rotating schedule will be provided ahead of time.
  • Accommodations will be made for K-12 students who are unable to attend in person to utilize synchronous online learning through Zoom and other remote learning tools. Synchronous means remote students log-on to receive instruction with their class at certain set times during the school day.
  • Based on current recommendations from LLCHD and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, LPS will require face coverings to be worn by students, staff, visitors and other building users while at school. Schools will provide multilayered cloth face coverings for students and staff who do not have them available. Students are welcome to bring and wear their own appropriate multilayered cloth face coverings.

Educators want to be back in school. We care deeply for our students and their families. However, we are concerned that the plan to reopen our school buildings while we are still in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic presents too great a risk to community health and safety.

While other leaders in our state and nation failed to implement policies and practices that could have allowed us more effective and quicker recovery from the pandemic, the district’s current reopening plan adds to the problem by a premature full reopening of schools.

Schools are often factories for illness even when we are not in a pandemic. The difference now is that this pandemic is indeed life-threatening. While we understand that the COVID risk for younger children may vary from that of older children, teens, and young adults, there is still risk.

The risk is not zero at any age. We do know there is increased risk to teens. There is no way at this time to reopen our schools and guarantee that students will be safe from COVID — or of being certain that students couldn’t be asymptomatic carriers of the virus back to vulnerable family members. Additionally, the health and safety of thousands of school staff members throughout the district cannot be ignored.

Hundreds of LPS staff are also in higher risk categories or live with someone who is at higher risk. The decision to open schools knowingly risks young people’s health and the health of their families by opening our school buildings and returning to all in-person instruction. Even if the risks to our younger population are small—even if one young person suffers serious illness or death, that is not a price that our community should pay.

The decision to open schools knowingly asks teachers and all school personnel—thousands of our neighbors, friends, and family—to put themselves at risk by opening our school buildings and returning to all in-person instruction. There is a very real probability that adults in our school system will become ill or even die with COVID by reopening now. That is not a price that our community should pay. Our preference would be for a delayed reopening of school buildings until we are firmly in the green range on the COVID risk dial, or until we have 14 days with no new cases. In the meantime, students can be served in a remote learning environment, and because we have had more time to design and implement more robust remote learning plans, we could feel confident of delivering educational value to our students. Alternatively, LPS could consider a plan other than full-capacity reopening; perhaps staggered attendance could be explored that would also allow for physical distancing within our already-crowded classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias.

We appreciate the pressure that our district officials and Board of Education face in making these difficult decisions. We appreciate and share the desire to have students back in school. We also know there is political pressure that is more focused on a pretense of normal for the sake of the economy, rather than being focused on the health and safety of our communities. We understand that an entirely remote learning environment poses challenges as well, but we believe that lives are worth prioritizing too—and we are devoted to working together with LPS to implement solutions that would allow remote learning or a hybrid of remote vs. in-person attendance to be most effective and to provide important learning opportunities for all students. We are professional educators who have devoted ourselves to other people’s children. We cannot in good conscience go along with a full reopening of school buildings without first standing up for the health and safety of children and families, including our own, and without asking for a plan that better protects the health and safety of thousands of LPS staff who will be the ones on the front lines and who will be the most vulnerable. This pandemic poses a greater threat to our community than any of us have experienced. But together, we can make decisions that will be an important part of our community’s defense against the virus — and that will be of greatest benefit to our community in the long run.”

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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