Nebraska Board of Education wants mask mandate

Nebraska State Education Association also calling for mask mandate
Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 10:20 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2020 at 10:59 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The State Board of Education is recommending a statewide mask mandate to ensure the safety of all students, staff, and community members. The recommendation comes in the form of a board resolution.

The resolution asks Nebraska communities to do their part to keep students and staff safe and to keep schools open through actions like wearing face coverings in public, staying home when possible, and avoiding the three Cs: crowded places, close contact, and confined spaces.

At the time of the resolution, more than 90,000 Nebraskans had contracted COVID-19 and more than 750 had lost their lives. The Nebraska Department of Education said schools have largely been successful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within their buildings but the greatest threat to keeping schools open is community spread and the decreasing hospital capacity across the state.

A plan released Friday by the Governor’s office shows that if the number of patients in hospitals increases from the current 20 percent to 25 percent, then schools would be allowed to stay open. The Governor has said he would not issue a statewide mask mandates because “they are often met with resistance”. The Governor has encouraged people to wear a mask when they can’t maintain six feet of distance from people for 15 minutes or longer.

The board also passed a resolution praising local health departments and health professionals who have worked tirelessly since the pandemic began.

According to a recent survey from the Nebraska State Education Association ninety-two percent of the more than 6,500 Nebraska public school educators who responded to the statewide survey say wearing masks should be mandated for both teachers and students. The NSEA conducted the survey from Oct. 23 – Nov. 2 to assess its' members views and concerns about teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The responses left little doubt that educators are at the breaking point,” said NSEA President Jenni Benson. "They are concerned that the needs of their students are not being met. They are worried about their health and safety and that of their students and families.

“Many teachers are having to teach students both in-person and remotely at the same time. That is exhausting teachers and making it nearly impossible to provide quality teaching and learning for students,” said Benson.

Survey results show 89 percent of respondents from the Lincoln and Omaha public school districts do not believe their district’s current learning model is equitably meeting the needs of all students. Both districts include teaching in-person and remote learners at the same time. Statewide, which includes some districts that are offering only in-person teaching, 59 percent of survey respondents said they are concerned that their district’s learning model is not equitable for all students.

Benson said educators desperately want to do the best job they can for their students and thus are pleading for more time to plan and prepare for the changing teaching and learning models.

“Teachers are not provided adequate plan time and, because there is a shortage of substitute teachers, they are having to cover the classes of colleagues who are in quarantine or who are ill, so are losing the little plan time they do have. The situation is unsustainable.”

Eighty-six percent of the educators who participated in the survey reported feeling overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated or worried. A majority of respondents also said their school district is not listening to educator input regarding issues around teaching and learning during the pandemic. In some cases, teachers have left their teaching jobs just months into the school year.

“Some teachers have already left the profession this year and, without immediate action to help our educators, we are about to lose many, many more,” said Benson.

The survey showed that statewide nearly one in four teachers plan to leave the profession by the end of the school year. In Lincoln and Omaha, nearly one in three respondents said they plan to leave teaching.

Educators need public and school district support now more than ever, according to Benson.

“Teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students and they want to be safe. Their concerns and fears are real and legitimate,” said Benson.

On behalf of NSEA members and students across the state, Benson said the NSEA will file a petition for a declaratory order with the State Board of Education. The petition will request that the State Board declare the interventions and protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) be adopted as the specific safety criteria under which schools will operate and remain open.

“To keep our schools open and operating safely, the State Board needs to set these basic standards that every school district must uphold for the health and safety of students and staff,” said Benson.

Benson and NSEA Executive Director Maddie Fennell said school administrators need to utilize the tools at their disposal to provide necessary relief for staff:

  • Suspension of evaluations for non-probationary teachers;
  • Make curriculum adjustments and relax pacing. Lost instructional time may be due to cleaning, sanitizing, mask breaks and technical issues with remote learners. Teachers know their students and will keep them advancing academically;
  • Providing plan time – not more training – as allowed by the recent Nebraska Department of Education guidance posted at:
  • Have more administrators cover classes instead of taking away teacher plan time and increasing the numbers of students in class;
  • Districts must provide factual COVID numbers to the public and school staff;
  • Listen to educator input, show empathy and leadership.

Fennell said NSEA is joining with medical experts from UNMC and across Nebraska in asking the Governor to immediately issue Directed Health Measures that will call for:

  • A statewide mask mandate;
  • Limitation of 10 people for indoor or outdoor gatherings;
  • Temporarily close bars and suspend indoor dining and launch a Takeout Nebraska campaign;
  • Dedensify classrooms with alternative staffing and student attendance patterns, especially when students are eating.

In addition, the NSEA is calling for a suspension of all youth and high school sports and extracurricular activities until January.

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