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LPS land purchase in east Lincoln not for new school in the near future

LPS land purchase in east Lincoln not for new school in the near future

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Don’t expect an elementary school to pop up near 98th and Van Dorn streets in the near future.

The Lincoln Board of Education will vote July 30 on a deal to buy 19 acres in the area for $1.16 million, one of several land deals the district has made in recent months.

LPS has been squirreling money away in its building fund to buy land on which to build new schools in anticipation of a bond issue in 2020 — but those schools wouldn't be built on this land, district officials said.

They’re looking farther into the future with this purchase, when development of the Stevens Creek watershed will push the city limits east, according to Associate Superintendent Liz Standish.

Since November, the school board has approved other land deals in south Lincoln, where growth is robust: 30 acres south of Rokeby Road between 70th and 84th streets; and an exchange of property on a parcel of land between 27th and 40th streets and Yankee Hill and Rokeby roads. LPS is keeping enough land for an elementary school there, and the property exchange means the developer will pay infrastructure costs.

Military recruiters calling

The Legislature passed a law this session requiring that school districts provide military recruiters with students' directory information — essentially age, address and phone number.

LPS is now considering a new policy to conform with the law, but said it codifies a longstanding practice.

Schools have long provided such information to colleges and other postsecondary institutions, which is why the mailboxes of families with high school juniors and seniors fill up with letters from colleges encouraging their child to apply.

Colleges also get information from the ACT and SAT exams — which typically ask if the information can be shared. 

Military recruiters also send mailers touting the benefits of service, and have been known to call students to encourage visits to a recruiting office.

Their efforts have caused consternation in the past: A decade ago, the ACLU of Nebraska fielded a number of complaints from parents, which prompted it to write a letter to schools clarifying that parents can request their students' information not be shared with military recruiters.

The ACLU didn’t weigh in on debate on the bill, but both LB575 and the proposed LPS policy say parents can "opt out" of providing the information. 

Defining equity

Equity is the issue of the day.

The Nebraska Department of Education has spent months crafting a position statement on equity and now Lincoln Public Schools is undertaking a similar exercise. 

The state board's "nondiscrimination and equitable educational opportunities in schools" position statement is a work in progress that expands on an existing nondiscrimination statement.

An initial draft released in March includes more protected groups and commits to confronting the effects of the societal history of “bias, bigotry and racism.”

It's part of a yearlong push by Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt to ensure all the state's students have equitable access.

An updated draft — after months of work — may be discussed by the state ed board in August, said Nebraska Department of Education spokesman David Jespersen.  

The initial draft said educational equity means having high expectations for all students, and ensuring meaningful access to educational resources when they need it.

It also added several potentially marginalized students beyond race, color, sex and national origin. The draft also ensured equal opportunities regardless of ethnicity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, age, genetic information, veteran status, marital status or political affiliation.

Both the state and LPS have wrestled with issues of gender identification in the past.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued guidance to schools on bathroom use by transgender students, and the state board deadlocked on a resolution calling the guidance federal overreach.

The issue drew large crowds, as did a monthslong controversy at LPS in 2104 over gender identity training materials, a debate that garnered national attention.

State board member Patsy Koch-Johns said identifying protected groups is important.

“All of the research shows if I’m not included in a statement of equity that says I’m important, if I’m not included in your statement of what matters, of what’s important in your school, that causes all kinds of problems with kids and how they feel about themselves.”

The board also is working on a document that will accompany the statement, which Koch-Johns calls an equity lens — a series of questions policymakers can ask themselves before making decisions.

The Lincoln Board of Education wants Superintendent Steve Joel to identify a “common definition of equity” and a means of monitoring the district’s efforts by April 2020.

School board member Kathy Danek said the district has looked at equity and equality through the same lens for years, and it's time to redefine that work.

“Equal means everyone gets the same,” she said. “Equitable means they get what they need.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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