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LPS teachers are scared, frustrated with current COVID-19 measures

They’re calling for schools to close after Thanksgiving, and the structure of remote and in-person learning to change to be better for everyone involved.
Published: Nov. 24, 2020 at 6:45 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Lincoln Public Schools are closed to students this week, but are planning to open after the holiday weekend, just like they would in any other year.

This has Lincoln teachers sounding the alarm, telling 10/11 NOW they’re afraid to be at school.

“You worry every single day you walk in; it’s so stressful,” Para-educator at Elliott Elementary Cathy Goldman said. “You try and walk into the building with a smile on your face and you want to walk out in tears.”

Goldman believes she contracted COVID-19 at Elliott Elementary earlier in the year. She said that shows that schools are not as safe as district officials have said.

“I watched all of my coworkers get it one after another; we closed our department for two weeks because there wasn’t enough staff. No it’s not safe,” Goldman said.

Goldman, and another Lincoln teacher, Michelle Clifford, an art teacher at Lincoln High School said schools should be closed until January 2021.

“I haven’t argued for schools to be closed up until this point, I’ve been arguing for better safety measures but at this point I think its unwise to be open,” Clifford said.

Last week LPS announced 128 new COVID-19 cases for students and 62 new cases for staff. There are also 253 staff in quarantine.

“We could have made the proactive decision to end the semester at Thanksgiving knowing that the holidays would be an additional risk, but we didn’t,” Clifford said.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel said in an interview with 10/11 last week that LPS schools are the safest place for students and will remain open unless the Health Department or Governor recommends they close.

“Our strategy for saying we are going to have school regardless has been very sound,” Dr. Joel said. “This community needs kids to be in school.”

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and Health Department Director Pat Lopez also said schools are the safest place for students in the city’s press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Both said it’s up to the community to help ensure the safety by following guidelines, like not gathering for Thanksgiving.

10/11 NOW also talked with the teachers about the balance of remote and in-person learning. Last week, Dr. Joel said it was harder than he imagined it would be for teachers.

Clifford said its taking a toll on both teachers and students.

“Basically what we’re doing is live streaming classes,” Clifford said. “I think we can all understand that watching a live stream isn’t the same as being there, watching anyone livestream anything puts you in the position of being a viewer, not a participant.”

As an art teacher, much of her teaching is watching students work and providing feedback on their artwork. She said because remote students aren’t required to keep cameras on, she can’t see how they are working and even if they have cameras on. She said the cameras on the provided Chromebooks aren’t good enough to adequately see the artwork in class.

Instead, Clifford is conferencing or emailing with these students outside of class.

“So they’ve sat in class on Zoom for 50 minutes and aren’t able to do their work,” Clifford said. “Then they’ve spent seven hours a day on Zoom but still have to complete their work and get help from teachers outside of those seven hours,” Clifford said. “It really feels like we’re doing a very unique form of torture and I have a really hard time being a part of that.”

This also takes a toll on teachers as they’re not able to tend to remote learners in class, pushing that work outside the school day.

Clifford said the days off this week help with that and have allowed her to take some time to care for her own mental health, but its not a long-term solution.

“What teachers and students are struggling with is school because of this structure; I have students who are not doing okay,” Clifford said.

Clifford said if the district had strictly Zoom teachers for remote learners it would take away the biggest stressor for both teachers and students. Dr. Joel said this is something the district would have considered if he could start the year over.

“But its about a $3 million investment for the district,” he said.

The district also said this model wouldn’t allow for the same flexibility that allows students to go back and forth between remote and in-person learning.

Clifford said teachers could handle having just the students who are quarantining for two weeks because of a COVID-19 exposure zoom into class, but the students who are fully remote need a better option. She said she believes families would understand needing to make a choice and sticking with it, because it would be better for their kids.

“The way I would structure an online class would be completely different than what we’re doing for in-person learners,” Clifford said.

Dr. Joel said its too late to implement a virtual school now because of the cost. Clifford said if the district wanted to make it happen, they could.

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