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More than 42,000 Lincoln Public Schools students head back to class this week, along with thousands of parochial school students. 

To go along with the full backpacks and teary-eyed kindergarten parents, the long drop-off lines and 25-mph speed zones, here's some of the new stuff awaiting students as they bid their summer vacations farewell. 

School lunches

A new vendor is handling online payments for LPS’ breakfast and lunch programs, which means parents will have to sign up anew, even those who had an online account previously.

The processing fee for online payments went up to $1.95, from 20 cents for checks and $1.20 for credit card payments. Parents can avoid the fees by paying by cash or check at their child's school. 

The new site allows parents to apply online for free and reduced lunches and to find out what’s on the daily menu at each school.

Some cool new features: The site will identify allergens tagged by parents in all menu items, and parents will now be able to see what food their kids have purchased. Note to those students whose preferred choices have been ice cream cones and French fries: you’re busted. But you can try some new foods, including pizza bites, chicken carnitas, tangerine chicken and hard-boiled eggs.

La cucaracha 

LPS will create a new student ensemble group: A mariachi band called Los Mariachi de la Ceudad Estrella (mariachi of star city).

Mariachi bands play traditional Mexican folk music and are made up primarily of string instruments: violins, basses, guitars and vihuelas (Spanish guitars).

Lincoln High orchestra teacher and department chair Brent Noser will be the director, but the band will be open to eighth- through 12th-grade students at all LPS schools, said district music curriculum specialist Lance Nielsen.

“We want to reach out to the Hispanic community in Lincoln, for sure, but we want anybody to come and learn about this type of music,” he said. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. It’s our way of reaching out and providing musical opportunities for all students.”

The district has in recent years branched out from the traditional high school choruses, bands and orchestras to embrace music of other cultures.

At least two high schools will have world drumming classes this year, and many elementary schools have begun to include that as part of their music program. Lincoln High also has had a world music group.

Any interested students can come to an informational meeting Aug. 25 at 10 a.m. at Lincoln High.

Safety drills

Each LPS school will have mandatory “lockdown” and “lockout” drills — two of each — in addition to the 10 fire drills and two tornado drills required by state law.

The drills — which previously were recommended but not required — are part of the district’s efforts to make sure procedures are more consistent from school to school and to improve communication with parents. They’ll tell parents before lockdown drills happen, offer tips for talking to kids and allow parents to see the training video their students will see.

Training videos and other school security information is at home.lps.org/security (click on the picture of “standard response protocol").

No potholes, more buzzers

On the subject of security, visitors to Lincoln Christian will now have to be buzzed through two doors, rather than one.

Superintendent Zach Kassebaum said visitors have always been buzzed in the front door, but now they’ll be buzzed into a vestibule, where they’ll be greeted and must sign in before being buzzed into the school.

Also new this fall: A parking lot with no potholes and a new plan at Lincoln Christian that will allow for better traffic flow when parents are picking up and dropping off their kids.

New spaces

Lincoln Lutheran has a new $500,000 multipurpose building for students, which administrators also hope to open to community groups on a rental basis. It will be a space for soccer, baseball, softball, wrestling, dance and cheerleading and golf — along with any other uses they dream up along the way.

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LPS middle and high school students will get the same Chromebook they had last year, complete with any little dings that parents chose not to fix.

Previously, parents had to pay for any minor repairs at the end of each school year, since the devices could go to different students. Some parents preferred to let their kids live with the dings they’d caused.

All sixth-graders and ninth-graders get new Chromebooks, which means the middle school devices are replaced every three years and high school devices every four years. High school students will now get devices that also act as tablets, with video and still-camera capabilities.

Now hiring 

LPS still is facing staff shortages in a few areas: bus drivers, para-educators and treatment nurses.

The district has been struggling for several years to hire enough bus drivers.

It’s used signing bonuses and other incentives, but still is in need of 12 drivers. The district also struggles to fill all para-educator positions and is still in need of 19 more paras for the classroom — and another 35 paras to ride buses with students.

Another difficult position to fill: treatment nurses to work with students with high medical needs.

Goodbye class rank

Like many other school districts — including LPS — Pius X will be phasing out class rank, which means this fall’s seniors will be the last ones who can report class rank on their college applications.

Less than 50 percent of applicants report class rank, according to the National College Admission Counselors Association. No Nebraska colleges still require it, Pius X officials said.

Among the downsides cited surrounding class rankings: It can foster an unhealthy competition between students, it's impossible to compare ranks from different schools and can penalize students with excellent grades.

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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