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LPS no longer plans to automatically shift to remote learning if city in 'red' coronavirus zone
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LPS no longer plans to automatically shift to remote learning if city in 'red' coronavirus zone

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Remote learning

Eighth grade social studies teacher Jake Bogus takes attendance for in-person and remote learners in August. Lincoln Public Schools announced it no longer will automatically shift to fully remote learning if the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s risk dial moves into the red, or severe, zone.

Lincoln Public Schools’ written protocols for educating students in a pandemic no longer say the district will automatically shift to fully remote learning if the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s risk dial moves into the red, or severe, zone.

Superintendent Steve Joel said the change, made Tuesday, updates the written protocols to match what he’s said publicly on several occasions and is more aligned with what district and health officials now know about the virus.

“I’ve said on a number of different occasions publicly that what we know now is way different than what we knew in April when we made the plan,” he said.

For instance, he said, they now know more about the effectiveness of masks and other protocols that help keep schools safe.

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Maggie Thompson, a parent who has advocated for families and staff and for changes in the reopening plan, said not formally communicating the change to families and staff was abhorrent.

“I understand the plan is meant to be fluid and flexible,” she said. “My issue is if you’re going to make a change that big, it shouldn’t be in a passing comment in a board meeting.”

Not everyone watches the board meetings, she said, and it’s vital for both staff and families to have updated, clear information to make decisions for themselves and their families.

Previously, the protocols said that if the risk dial moved to red, “all LPS buildings will be closed and all students will participate in remote learning.”

They now say if the dial moves to red, LPS “will work collaboratively with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department to implement plans and protocols that address the areas of concern in our community and schools. We will follow recommendations from the health department on how schools can respond effectively and allow teaching and learning to continue while reducing the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

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LPS officials meet weekly with health department officials, have followed their guidance and will continue to take any recommendations under advisement if the risk dial would move to red, Joel said.

“But to say it’s automatic doesn’t make sense today when less than .06% (of students and staff) have acquired the virus,” and there is no evidence of school spread, he said.

The risk dial, he said, “informs our decisions; it doesn’t make them.”

Cases have spiked in recent weeks, and both hospitalizations and deaths have increased. The risk dial remains in the upper portion of the orange, or high, zone. 

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Health department officials have said many of the school cases come from social gatherings, get-togethers and events outside of school. The other side of the argument, Joel said, is that if LPS moved to fully remote learning, students would be outside of school more without the protocols and precautions followed there.

“I’m as concerned as anybody right now with community numbers,” he said.

But there are other considerations, he said, including that some students struggle with remote learning, people want schools to be open, and closing them would affect parents who have to work and the businesses that employ those parents.

Sending a family email after his board comments in September would have implied that a move to the red zone was imminent or had already happened, and LPS officials said they did not want to confuse families.

The change in protocol wording now was made to match what Joel has said publicly, and does not mean a move to red is imminent, said Communications Director Mindy Burbach. Officials plan to clarify information in the weekly update sent to parents.

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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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