Omaha Public Schools moving to 100% remote learning for at least first-quarter

OPS Superintendent Logan: 'We miss our students terribly'
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 5:29 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2020 at 8:39 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha Public Schools will go to 100% remote learning for at least the first quarter of the school year, starting Aug. 18 — a week later than previously scheduled.

“This is just where we are. We don’t want to be here, but it is where we are,” OPS Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Logan said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

Logan confirmed the details that had been circulating Friday via an Omaha Education Association memo after the superintendent alluded to the changes on a Zoom meeting Thursday night.

“ALL students and staff will be full remote starting AUGUST 18th,” the memo states. That will extend at least through the first quarter, which ends Oct. 16.

“We miss our young people terribly,” Logan said during the news conference.

The district planned for many possibilities and has been transparent with staff and families, she said.

OPS is concerned about the learning and emotional well-being of students, and are working to provide support resources, she said.

“This was a difficult, difficult decision,” said Logan, who herself was an educator for 13 years in elementary and high school.

“Very disappointed to be here today. Desperately want the children to come back,” Logan said.

She said she knows that this will be also difficult for students.

“Many of the things that they love happen in school,” she said.

The superintendent said a few different factors ultimately led to the decision. One was the article published earlier this week by The Center for Public Integrity that quoted White House coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx as having concern about the rising number of cases in Omaha and a handful of other U.S. cities.

She said that “many, many people — parents, community members, and such” had reached out to her and the Board of Education with concern.

“But also what was really concerning to us was that in the few days that we have been back with just our staff, we have seen critical numbers of staff either have to be quarantined or have to be tested for COVID,” she said. “This allowed us to make a reasonable prediction about what school would be like when we added 54,000 students to that mix.”

There was also a lot of concern about the Family 3/2 plan, she said.

“We’ve seen a rapidly changing dynamic with parents,” she said.

After the July 13 meeting when the district outlined its back-to-school plans, the day after that people were more concerned about having any sort of in-person learning

Logan said all of this has been very difficult for parents to navigate, and the response from parents covered a range of apprehension.

“Some parents aren’t afraid at all; some felt some trepidation; and some felt the need to keep their child home, for all kinds of reasons that made sense,” she said.

As difficult as the decision was for the district, Logan said she recognized that it is “much more difficult for the people we serve.”

“I do ask, humbly ask, for (employers) to work with their parents and be flexible,” she said.

Logan declined to speculate about whether sports would have been allowed to continue had the district opted to stay with the Family 3/2 model and resume school on Tuesday as previously planned.

Logan said she contacted the mayor, the governor, and the chamber to let them know about the OPS decision to go fully remote in order to encourage community support for that decision and the effects of that decision. Logan said at the news conference that she had not yet spoken with the governor about the decision, but expected to talk with him later Friday afternoon.

OPS Board President Marque Snow said the decision to move to fully virtual learning was a collaborative decision, and he applauded the continued hard work of Dr. Logan, especially now.

“She is a leader. She cares about our students, she cares about our staff, she cares about our community. And this wasn’t an easy decision,” he said.

Snow urged parents and the community to have patience in the coming weeks.

“Going through this process and taking care of our kids is going to be an ongoing process,” he said. “...Be patient, be humble, and understand that we will get through this together.”

New OPS plan details

Schools were previously planning to start on an intermittent schedule starting Tuesday, but the district will now be offering an in-service and allow teachers work time to prepare for the following week. Logan said the extra week will give the district more time to distribute the devices that are now critical for students to have prior to the virtual first day of school and give teachers the time to adjust their plans from the 3/2 plans to fully virtual learning.

The district plans to distribute all of the technology to students prior to the first day of virtual school on Aug. 18, and the extra week also gives them time to do that, Logan said.

OPS is requiring staff to teach their remote lesson from their classrooms, according to the teachers union memo.

Staff with school-aged children will be allowed to bring their kids — including those who are also doing remote-learning classes — into the building while they’re teaching, the OEA memo states, but they will be required to remain in the room.

The new start date doesn’t affect the OPS calendar, Logan said, and any sort of weather closings that might need to happen during the first quarter now will not be necessary.

As of now, staff are still getting a three-week winter break starting Dec. 14, with second quarter ending Dec. 11.

“I know there are questions remaining, but I wanted to share with that OEA has diligently worked on your behalf in identifying the best option for the safety for our students and staff,” OEA president Robert Miller said in the memo.

A donor arranged for food to be provided to families in need through December, Logan said. There will likely be more of them, utilizing the district’s bus drivers, so that students don’t have to go anywhere, she said.

Support from city officials

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray and Chris Rodgers, a Douglas County Commissioner who is also president of the Douglas County Board of Health, were present at the meeting and supportive of Dr. Logan’s decision.

“I think that Dr. Logan made the absolute right decision,” Gray said, noting that it is going to be challenging for some families.

“We’ve got to stop playing with this virus,” he said.

Rodgers echoed his support of Logan’s decision.

“She noted out all the things that I hear at home as a parent,” he said. “I’ve got two kids, and they’re eager to come back for the social aspect. My oldest is eager for the athletic piece and wondering when they’re going to be able to get at it.”

He said he and his wife were also apprehensive, wondering whether sending their kids back to school right now was the right decision.

Rodgers urged the community to accept the reality that COVID-19 is going to be a factor of life for a while, even once there’s a vaccine.

Q&A with OPS superintendent, school board president

Watch the entire news conference

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