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LPS administration hopeful next year will bring students back to school

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:02 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Lincoln Public Schools is days away from closing the chapter on another school year, this one unlike any other, and superintendent Dr. Steve Joel is calling the year a success.

“The biggest challenge we had was how do we make the most of this year in an environment that is completely different so we have minimal learning loss and I’m proud to say that is the case,” Dr. Joel said.

Now, the goal is working on getting students back in class.

“We’re starting to see more normalcy,” Dr. Joel said. “Virus transmission and acquisition rates have gone down dramatically. We now have high school students with access to the vaccine, within a week we’ll have middle schoolers with access to the vaccine.”

He said this has them questioning the original plan to have an all-virtual school for students opting out of in-person learning.

“While that was a viable option for them and for families, that’s where learning loss is,” Dr. Joel said.

Seven hundred fifty students enrolled in the program originally meant for students of all ages. Now, Dr. Joel said they may only offer it to elementary students who aren’t able to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It comes with a $3 million price tag and while most of that would be paid for with stimulus dollars, but with regard to the accountability we have for learning loss, those dollars could be distributed elsewhere,” Dr. Joel said.

He said they’re also seeing waning interest in remote learning. The district started the school year with 30 percent of students learning remotely and they’re ending it at 13 percent.

Dr. Joel said this is a good thing because he believes students should be learning in person if possible.

“That’s why we exist, that’s why we’re building new buildings, that’s why we’re excited about our new focus programs,” Dr. Joel said. “We get there will be mitigating circumstances so it’s likely we’ll always have to have something for students in those cases but we want to get the message out to get kids back in school because that’s where they’re going to do their best work.”

He said the area where remote learners struggled the most was in math.

“Doing math remotely is tough. You can read on your own but it’s difficult to do math on your own,” Dr. Joel said.

He said this is a big deal because the ACT and other state accountability measures are math based. However he said he’s confident students can catch up.

As for what school will look like next year, a lot is still unknown.

“I understand that people want to make plans but we are still in a pandemic,” Dr. Joel said. “As I look back on this year it’s been amazing in so many ways. Information has changed on a daily basis, that’s why we’re re-evaluating the remote learning program because four months ago it looked like there was no way we’d be able to start school in a normal way then all the sudden we got all of this vaccine news.”

He said they want to start the school year off as normal as possible, but they don’t want to get rid of safety measures too quickly.

“I think we’ll make the best decision in the most timely way we can given the best information we have available,” he said.

Dr. Joel said much of the planning for next year will happen in the first month after school ends next week.

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