Visitors and volunteers at Lincoln Public Schools during school hours will have to show their vaccination card or wear a mask at all times, one of the few revisions to the district's return-to-school plan for the fall as virus variant concerns mount.
The change is reflected in the plan's final copy — LPS' playbook to navigating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — in which no major changes to masking or vaccination policy for staff or students were made.
Masks will still be strongly recommended for all unvaccinated students and optional for those who are vaccinated. Face coverings remain required for unvaccinated staff members.
Any outside party that visits a school — a volunteer, family member or other visitor — will have to show proof of vaccination or wear a face covering at all times during business hours. Visitors who are unvaccinated are required to wear masks, while they are optional for those who have received the vaccine.
For events outside the school day, vaccination status will not be checked.
Originally, the draft plan had suggested visitors would follow the honor system when it came to vaccination reporting. Those who were unvaccinated would have been required to mask up. Most volunteers and visitors — like Junior Achievement representatives — were not allowed in schools last year. TeamMates mentors were allowed in schools.
Superintendent Steve Joel said the reasoning is one of liability and safety — an unvaccinated visitor could unknowingly spread the virus to teachers and students, he said.
"We want to get our visitors back," he said. "If you don't want to prove vaccination, wear a mask. We want to say that as loudly as possible."
The plan released Thursday still does not require vaccines for teachers or students, although they are encouraged for those over the age of 12. Teachers will not report their vaccination status — they'll follow the honor system when it comes to masking.
Parents are still asked to provide schools their child's COVID-19 vaccination status as part of routine record-keeping in accordance with longstanding state regulations.
The district fielded public feedback on the plan after it was initially unveiled July 1 as a requirement of LPS receiving virus relief money from the federal government.
Out of 965 relevant responses, only 116 — or about 12% — agreed with the plan completely. About 45% of respondents called for more restrictions while nearly 43% wanted less.
"It's kind of what we expect because that's where America is. People are really divided on this," Joel said. "At the end of the day, our default is: What is the best thing we can do for our kids?
"I fully acknowledge — like snow days — one half is OK with (restrictions) and the other half is not. ... We have to take personal responsibility for doing the right thing."
Some who disagreed with the plan wanted to see masks required for all students, while others asked for mask mandates for students 12 and younger and the staff members who work with them. The COVID-19 vaccine has only been approved for those 12 and older. Others called for requiring vaccines and vaccinations records for all.
On the other side of the return-to-school debate, respondents' requests included strongly recommending masks for unvaccinated staff — as opposed to requiring them. Some even called for no masks at all. Others asked for an end to the 3- to 6-foot social distancing rules spelled out in the plan and a relaxation of quarantine protocols.
LPS officials also consulted with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department in drafting a final copy of the back-to-school playbook. Officials say the plan follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which were updated earlier this month. The guidelines call for in-person learning this fall across the United States with necessary restrictions in place based on local data.
If that data does change in Lincoln — in the community, in a school or in a classroom — LPS says it will adjust masking requirements and other protocols accordingly.
"Like we always said, it's got to be fluid," Joel said. "That's not really a final version (of the plan), it's the latest version. That's where we landed."
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Lincoln have already reached their highest point in two months, driven by the emerging delta variant, a more transmissible form of COVID-19, which concerns Joel.
But, in the end, the best protection to the virus and its variants, local and school officials have stressed, is getting vaccinated.
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