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LPS: Schools to stay open unless health department says otherwise

Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 8:53 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 19, 2020 at 2:08 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The first half of Lincoln Public School’s toughest school year is about 75% over, and Supt. Dr. Steve Joel said it’s going better than expected, but they’re learning more every day.

Dr. Joel said the pandemic has created a tough situation of balancing the education LPS is known for with keeping students and staff healthy.

“There are a lot of frustrations with regard to that but if you look at our ACT scores from yesterday and you look at the MAP scores from a few weeks ago, I’d say we’ve exceeded expectations,” Dr. Joel said.

He also told 10/11 NOW, their safety protocols are working.

“We’ve had some instances of school spread, but fortunately it’s been minimal,” Dr. Joel said. “There’s a lot of virus in our community so it’s safe to say it’s in our schools as well.”

He said the district’s positivity rate continues to be lower than Lancaster County’s, which is partially true.

Here’s the data since August 12:

GroupPopulationPositive CasesPositivity Rate
Lancaster County319,0909,8933.1%
LPS Students (in-person)31,6353971.3%
LPS Teachers & Staff6,6042513.8%
LPS Total38,2396481.7%

The data shows, overall, the district is testing positive at almost half the rate as Lancaster County as a whole. Students are testing positive at rate nearly 60% less than the county average. However, teachers and staff are testing positive at a rate roughly 23% higher than the county average.

Dr. Joel said these statistics show their plan to keep schools open, even with the county’s risk dial being in the red, is the right plan.

“This community needs our kids to be in school, we need our kids in school, our families need our kids in school,” Dr. Joel said.

He said he won’t recommend moving to remote learning unless it’s recommended by the health department or the governor.

Dr. Joel also discussed the lessons he’s learned in the last four months.

“The manner in which we’ve delivered instruction, which is in-person as well as those that are zooming in, has probably been more challenging than what I may have thought when we were first talking about how to give parents options,” Dr. Joel said.

He said in many situations, teachers have just a handful of students in their classrooms learning remotely and more than 20 students in person.

“That’s a struggle for them because they want to do their best for all students,” he said.

Dr. Joel said if he could go back and start the year over he would consider creating an all virtual school with strictly virtual teachers and students.

“I know a lot of folks say we should do that now for second semester, but that’s a $3 million cost to us,” Dr. Joel said.

He said they also need to continue their work to support teachers who are overworked and overwhelmed.

“They’re tired. The vast majority are working many more hours than they ever expected,” he said. “We’ve tried to pull things off their plates like assessments, meetings, and added days of professional time for them.”

He said they’re working to hire more substitute teachers to cover for teachers who are quarantined because of the district’s COVID-19 protocol.

Right now, more than 230 teachers and staff, or about 3.5%, are in quarantine or isolation.

Dr. Joel said they’re going to be licensing student teachers and have licensed 80 community members with degrees to be substitute teachers.

“I think if we can get full-time subs at dedicated buildings so people don’t have to class cover that should be helpful,” he said. “If we have to take more time for them in January, we’ll find a way to do that.”

He said he’s holding out hope that a vaccine could make their efforts to safely educate easier, though it’s too early to know if teachers or students will be required to be vaccinated.

“I’d hope most people would take the vaccine,” he said. “I know I will and I’ll do it as quickly as a I can.”

Dr. Joel said the biggest way the community can ease the pressure on everyone in the school district is to take an active role in fighting COVID-19.

“If we want kids to play sports, to come to school, we need everybody in Lincoln to do their part,” Dr. Joel said. “Wear a mask. Why not just wear a mask because you want to commit to your community, because you want to keep people safe? I’m puzzled by people who say they don’t want to wear a mask.”

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