Fifteen students in Tisha Thacker's fourth-grade class at Lexington's Pershing Elementary School had school safety and violence on their minds recently.
When they knew they were going to visit the Capitol in Lincoln last Wednesday, the 9- and 10-year-olds decided to write letters to their senator, Matt Williams of Gothenburg, and let him know their concerns.
Please make it a law, one boy said, that you can't allow violence in schools.
"Students can get terribly hurt," he said.
The students had a unit in their reading class that encouraged them to participate in government, their teacher said. When the fourth-graders studied Nebraska government, they asked if they could write to Williams, who had written them a letter last year.
They had heard President Donald Trump had talked about arming teachers after the shooting at a Florida high school Feb. 14, Thacker said.
"I left it up to them," the teacher said. "I said here are a few of the laws that are being talked about, like substitute teachers needing a four-year degree."
Most of the students chose the topic of school violence and arming teachers, edited the letters and submitted them to their teacher to give to the senator.
Monday, Williams read excerpts on the floor of the Legislature during debate on a bill (LB998) that would allow Educational Service Units to hire social workers to aid students with behavioral or mental health problems.
One of Thacker's students asked for protection for schools. He wanted stronger glass windows so a bad person couldn't break in the classroom. Stronger doors and fences. Military personnel to guard school grounds, day and night.
"I learn the best when I am protected and safe," he said.
The letters showed how children view the issue of arming teachers much differently than adults.
Teachers should not bring a gun to school because kids might get scared of the teacher, and some might not want to come to school anymore, one student wrote.
"When she calls us to go with her we will be, like, frozen because we will think she is going to point the gun to us," a girl said. "If students are talking to their neighbor when the teacher is talking and teaching, she will get mad. Accidentally shoot."
They feared accidents, the possibility of a gunshot ricocheting off a file cabinet and endangering students, or a new student thinking the teacher's gun is a toy and shooting it when the teacher steps out of the classroom.
Students see teachers as kind, caring and compassionate, a boy said. But if they carried guns, students would think they are untrustworthy and unkind.
Maybe the guns aren't the problem, one boy said. Maybe it's the person behind the gun.
"We should make sure that the person buying the gun is using it for legal purposes, not illegal purposes," the boy said. "This information is in our Bill of Rights in the 2nd Amendment."
One student suggested putting barbed wire around the school so people can't come in.
"Every time a person might break in to the schools, and that might never happen, but just to make sure they can get poked if they climb the fences," the boy said.
The students are reminded about school safety and gun violence every time an incident is reported in the news or when they do lockdown drills throughout the school year.
They had great thought processes and good questions about safety as they wrote to Williams, Thacker said. She was surprised how much concern they expressed as grade-school students.
But they put a lot of faith in what Nebraska lawmakers might be able to do for them.
"Just in case someone brings a gun to a public school in Lexington, Nebraska, I hope you will keep us safe," a girl said.
Staff for Legal Aid of Nebraska will move into a temporary office in the Haymarket later this week as the investigation into the fire at their Terminal Building offices continues, the organization's executive director said Monday.
Director Milo Mumgaard said the nonprofit will sign a lease on the office this week and the 20-plus staff members will move in.
Their eighth-floor offices in the Terminal Building remained charred and partially closed off because of the fire investigation that began Feb. 19, he said.
"The bottom line is that the whole space is a total loss,” Mumgaard said.
No one was inside the building when fire crews arrived to check on a fire alarm at 5:45 a.m. and found flames coming from an office window, Battalion Chief Leo Benes said.
Legal Aid's floor sustained the most considerable damage, but smoke damage extended at least two floors up, and water caused damage to the two floors below, Benes said.
Lincoln Fire Investigator Chuck Schweitzer said last week the investigation was ongoing and that more testing was scheduled for March 19.
Legal Aid staff have been working at Nonprofit Hub at 14th and P streets. While that new space has been welcoming for his displaced workers, Mumgaard said its openness has not been conducive to conducting private client meetings.
And the organization, which provides legal representation and counsel for low-income families, has not been able to host its weekly consultation hours for people seeking to represent themselves in court.
"Having this kind of tumult is tough, but they are very spirited,” Mumgaard said of his staff.
Staff will work in the new Haymarket office, which will be announced later this week, for six to nine months, he said. By then, Mumgaard expects their Terminal Building floor to be restored and renovated to a new design they had planned before the fire.
"In that sense, it works out pretty well,” Mumgaard said, noting they had planned to close off a third of the office as renovation crews worked.
A previously planned fundraiser for the organization is March 24 at the Haymarket Theatre at 803 Q St.
The event, titled Jazz for Justice, will feature Grammy-nominated singer Karrin Allyson. Tickets for the benefit, where dessert and cocktails will be served, are $75.
All restaurants and other places that serve food to the public will be required to have policies covering how to safely clean up vomit and diarrhea and will have to have bodily fluid cleanup kits.
Despite critical questions from several council members at last week’s public hearing, the City Council voted 5-1 Monday to require both the written policy and the kits as part of the city code for the more than 1,000 licensed food establishments.
Councilwoman Jane Raybould, who had many questions about the kit requirement last week, said she discovered that having the bodily fluid kits is a fairly common practice across the city.
Raybould, who is part of the management team for the Russ’s and Super Saver grocery stores, said she learned during the week that all the stores carry kits, which cost between $12 to $15.
“I stand corrected,” she said Monday, explaining her vote in favor of the new requirements. Last week, she suggested the cleanup kit proposal might be overregulation.
“It's not so simple," she said this week. "We want to be on the side of caution, of looking after the public safety.”
Only Councilman Roy Christensen, who had also voiced skepticism last week that employees would actually use the kits, voted against adopting the new food establishment codes.
The Lincoln requirements go beyond what either the state or federal government recommend. The federal government’s model code recommends requiring a written policy but not the kits. The state recommends neither.
About 56 percent of the Lincoln food establishments that participated in a survey had a written policy covering cleanup procedures and just less than 50 percent had a bodily fluid kit on the premise.
The cleanup of vomit and diarrhea should be done very carefully, because both can be the result of someone who has norovirus, a highly contagious virus, according to Lincoln-Lancaster County Department of Health staff.
The Lincoln City Council has delayed for a week a decision on selling 17th Street through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, at the request of Mayor Chris Beutler.
It was Beutler who in a letter last week urged the council to approve the $80,000 sale to NU, contending the sale price was fair and the city would have additional costs in maintaining the street if it isn’t sold.
Transitioning 17th Street through campus to a pedestrian corridor has been part of UNL’s master plan for two decades.
As a part of the plan that included development of Antelope Valley Parkway into a main traffic thoroughfare, the city has switched 16th Street through campus to two-way traffic, replacing signals with four-way stops.
The Beutler administration asked to delay the 17th Street decision for a week because Councilman Carl Eskridge was not at Monday's meeting because of a family emergency, said Rick Hoppe, chief of staff to the mayor.
Councilman Roy Christensen, who has suggested the city should get more than $80,000 for the property, said UNL is also getting a good deal by being allowed to close the street without paying the city anything, as work continues to clean up from the demolition of Cather and Pound residence halls.
If a private company was involved, the city would be collecting a daily fee for blocking the street, Christensen said. A private company would also be required to fix any problems with the street created by the demolition work, he said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and a prisons spokeswoman Monday waved off charges by the ACLU of Nebraska that the state may have violated federal controlled-substances laws.
"The ACLU is fabricating charges in a desperate attempt to try to overturn the will of the people of Nebraska," Ricketts said.
The organization sent a request Monday to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to look into whether the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the Nebraska State Penitentiary illegally used DEA drug registrations to obtain drugs for executing inmates.
The registration, the ACLU said, authorizes the prison to dispense drugs to patients for health care treatment, not to inmates who are not patients and for purposes of execution.
It charged that the department may have materially misrepresented information to federal authorities about how it would use the federal registrations.
State law gives the Corrections Department the responsibility to carry out court-imposed death sentences, said department spokeswoman Dawn-Renee Smith.
The lethal-injection substances were purchased in the United States and were acquired legally, she said.
"The ACLU’s letter to the DEA is another attempt to stop lethal injection and contains inflammatory language clearly intended to discredit the department," she said.
In its letter, the ACLU called for the DEA to investigate the matter and, if the allegations are true, to suspend and revoke the registration and not allow the controlled substances in the prison's possession to be used for executions.
Ricketts said he didn't have any problem with how the drugs were obtained.
"We bought them specifically for that purpose (lethal injection)," he said.