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Omaha-metro teachers’ unions call on cities to enact mask mandates

Teachers' unions representing thousands of educators around the Omaha-metro sent a letter to their City Councils calling on them to mandate masks.
Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 12:17 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Union leaders representing thousands of teachers at six local school districts called on their respective city leaders to issue mask requirements as COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

“We cannot just leave it up to our schools to implement mitigation policies,” the letter states.

The letter addressed to the City Councils of Omaha, Bellevue, La Vista, Papillion, and Ralston was sent from Andrew Bowen, president of Bellevue Education Association; Tim Royers, president of the Millard Education Association; Robert Miller, president of the Omaha Education Association; Jared Wagenknecht, president of the Papillion-La Vista Education Association; Jane Leadabrand, president of the Ralston Education Association; and Teresa Matthews, president of the Westside Education Association.

Omaha Public Schools, Ralston, and Westside are the only Omaha-metro districts currently requiring masks for all students.

“Ultimately, we felt this is not a decision that should be left up to individual districts in the first place,” Royers said. “The response to a pandemic should be handled by the county health department and the city governments as it has been done, historically. So the idea that we have a patchwork of responses across different districts — to me that’s not an issue with how those individual districts are handling it; it’s a failure of larger levels of government not stepping in and making the call to keep all of us safe.”

Doctors say that requiring masks will help keep Omaha-metro schools open as the area continues to navigate the pandemic.

He said his concern is keeping kids in the classroom; but with no mandate, he’s not sure what will happen next.

“We’re concerned about the rising cases not only with students being absent but honestly, we’re worried about workforce shortages,” Royers said.

No matter how it happens, it’s clear medical experts and educators want the same thing in the end.

“We just want to have the safest environment for our kids, keep the schools open, get everybody what they need. We have the tools to do that. It’s just using the tools at the disposal of all of us, really,” said Dr. Kevin Kemp, Nebraska Medicine Critical Care Surgeon.

“Omicron now accounts for the majority of the cases in our community, and all of the best guidance indicates that a combination of universal masking and high vaccination rates is the right approach to keeping the disease under control. It is imperative that you as city council members act on this,” the unions’ letter states.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday issued a report on its Health Alert Network stating that the omicron variant now accounts for 52% of COVID-19 tests sequenced in the state in the past two weeks.

Read the letter from the teachers’ unions

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