Summary of June 24, 2020 meeting

A special Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council meeting was held via Zoom conference on Wednesday, June 24.

This group meets with the Superintendent to hear a broad overview of issues facing Lincoln Public Schools. Members are then invited to make comments and ask questions. After the meeting, a summary will be sent to council members so it can be shared with staff members in their buildings.

Update from Superintendent Steve Joel

Dr. Joel offered a brief overview of the work being done to offer in-person school this fall. We are working closely with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department and many staff members to figure out how to safely open up school in the fall. LPS will conduct classes and operate within the framework of the four risk color statuses of the COVID-19 Risk Dial as designated by LLCHD and the City of Lincoln. Our objective is to have students in school as much as possible.

Dr. Joel also talked about plans for in-person graduation. With much of the planning taking place in phase II, our staff had work for many weeks to honor seniors with a drive-up and virtual graduation to fit within the health directives. The Governor announcing the move to phase III and allowing more people to gather on the same day we announced our plans required us to reevaluate our plans. We heard from many in our community that they wanted an in-person ceremony. We were able to work quickly with the health department and Pinnacle Bank Arena to make adjustments and have in-person graduation.

Update from Associate Superintendent of Instruction Matt Larson

Dr. Larson reviewed the results from the recent parent survey. The results offer LPS administrators valuable input as they plan for the start of school. Results from the survey can be found here.

Update from Associate Superintendent for Business Affairs Liz Standish

Dr. Standish spoke about the school district’s close working relationship with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department as we plan for the new school year. She explained the current plan for school as it relates to the health department’s COVID-19 Risk Dial:

COVID Green: Low Risk of COVID-19 Spread

  • All students in grades Pre-K through 12 will attend school in person.

COVID Yellow: Moderate Risk of COVID-19 Spread

  • All students in grades Pre-K through 12 will attend school in person.
  • Accommodations will be made for K-12 students who are unable to attend in person to utilize synchronous online learning through Zoom and other remote learning tools. Synchronous means remote students log-on to receive instruction with their class at certain set times during the school day.
  • Based on current recommendations from LLCHD and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, LPS will require face coverings to be worn by students, staff, visitors and other building users while at school. Schools will provide multilayered cloth face coverings for students and staff who do not have them available. Students are welcome to bring and wear their own appropriate multilayered cloth face coverings.

COVID Orange: High Risk of COVID-19 Spread

  • All students in grades Pre-K through 8 (elementary and middle schools) will attend school in person.
  • In high schools (grades 9-12) we plan to continue with 100 percent of students attending in person. However, if required to meet physical distancing directives, it MAY be necessary to reduce the number of students in grades 9-12 in the building at one time by utilizing a rotating schedule. If this is the case, additional details on the rotating schedule will be provided ahead of time.
  • Accommodations will be made for K-12 students who are unable to attend in person to utilize synchronous online learning through Zoom and other remote learning tools. Synchronous means remote students log-on to receive instruction with their class at certain set times during the school day.
  • Based on current recommendations from LLCHD and to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, LPS will require face coverings to be worn by students, staff, visitors and other building users while at school. Schools will provide multilayered cloth face coverings for students and staff who do not have them available. Students are welcome to bring and wear their own appropriate multilayered cloth face coverings.

COVID Red: High Risk of COVID-19 Spread

  • All LPS buildings will be closed and all students will participate in remote learning from home.

Dr. Standish noted that remote learning in level red would look much different than the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 school year, but she thanked the teachers for all their work to keep students engaged during such a challenging time. She also said face coverings would be required at levels yellow, orange and red, and possibly level green.

Questions and/or concerns

Question: If we’re in session and we have a number of our students who have the remote learning option, what are some things teachers can do to manage both the in-person teaching and the remote teaching simultaneously?

Answer: Kristi Peters from Computing Services is heading up three different working groups and there is a large number of teacher representatives on each of them, for elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. They’re working out those details and protocols right now to make sure the remote Zooming process for teachers and students and families alike is as manageable and doable as possible. We can’t give you a lot of those details right now. All I can do is assure you that people are working hard on that. And they are seeking teacher input as that process is being designed right now.

Question: I’d like to ask about hand washing and face masks and being systematic about the density of our schools. I’m in a school of over 700 kids, not including staff. What about the social distancing when we’re in buildings of thousands of bodies? And how do we talk to our colleagues about that? And how does that suffice our feelings of anxiety? Because I think it’s important that we do acknowledge that teachers have anxiety, especially teachers my age that are 56 years old or plus, or that have other issues, maybe at home.

Answer: Number one, I think that one of the things that we have been talking with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department about is, given the current dynamics and the need for us to resume school, how do we do that in the safest way possible? And when we have large numbers of students or we have high density, one of the things the health department has advised us on is that we know it’s never going to be perfect. They know it’s never going to be perfect. When we go to the grocery store it’s not perfect, when we go to the gas station it’s not perfect. But in these environments where there are lots of people, what can we do to make it the safest environment possible? And that is that concept of masking and face covering and we have to be diligent about that. But we know in your classroom that six feet of distancing probably isn’t going to be able to be attained, so face coverings are going to be very important. If there’s any possibility of us being able to be in session in the fall, it’s going to be because we have things like face coverings and as much social distancing as we possibly can. Regarding individual staff members, we did push out a survey and I hope all of you have filled that out. We actually got a 62% return rate already on that. Our staff have been amazing on returning that. With the survey we were trying to determine how many staff members would fall into those CDC areas where there could be some concerns. Then what we will do is put out a communication to our staff to say, If this applied to you, if this was something that you marked yes and was a concern, we will try to help you navigate that. So if someone’s going to need some accommodations, if someone’s going to need modifications, if they’re going to need to take a leave of absence, we want to be as flexible as we can possibly can and make sure that they can can be as safe as possible, with an understanding that we also have to make sure that we can cover all those classrooms and make sure that students have teachers. Now our next hurdle is going to be working with people individually and asking, What is it that your doctor is telling you? What is it that you are telling us? And what is it that we can do to help you to either come into the workplace with some modifications or if you can’t, how do we work with you to navigate that next chapter, whether it’s a leave of absence or some other some other type of accommodation, to make sure that we can can both have classrooms covered and also keep you safe? Staff safety is absolutely paramount – it’s number one in the HR mindset. But we also have to make sure we can do that in a way that’s consistent and appropriate in terms of each individual need. And that’s just going to require individual conversations with those people. We’re very willing and ready to do that with each of the people that need to have those conversations.

Question: LPS is going to receive $8 million in federal CARES Act funding to offset the cost of dealing with COVID. Our governor has made national news by saying that he would withhold funding for certain edifices that require people to wear masks. And last night at the school board, there was the comment made that there is no option – that we have to wear masks. But we are a public entity. Would we be penalized by saying there is no option, that we all have to wear masks?

Answer: Immediately upon hearing that we contacted the Nebraska Department of Education and we’ve been assured that the governor does not have any control over our CARES dollars, that those are going to flow through the Nebraska Department of Education so we can have those mask requirements.

Question: One question at the high school level is regarding attendance – will there be different codes for students who are unable to attend? How will it affect student referrals to the county attorney for truancy diversion, etc.?

Answer: If a student is Zooming in, they will be expected to attend on a regular basis and we’ll handle attendance just like we would if they were physically present in school. So all attendance rules will still be in place. We’re working on an agreement form that parents will sign if they elect for the remote Zoom option and it is stated that they understand the attendance, behavior and other standard expectations will still be in place.

Question: At the elementary level, how will moving students in the building look? Can we regroup kids for reading and math groups? What about small intervention groups, like reading recovery and special education groups?

Answer: It’s a great question. Again, we’re working closely with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department and we’ve asked these specific questions that you’re asking. And the advice that we have received is that we will cohort students in the elementary grades. In other words, they’ll stay with their teacher for the day. Specials with the exception of physical education will come to the classroom and be delivered there to minimize movement in school. We do, however, have the health department’s permission – as long as everybody is wearing masks and move the small group to a particular part of the room – that we can continue to do those intervention groups because everyone understands how critically important they are to student success overall.

Question: Many parents were in favor of the shorter school day – is this something we’re planning to implement?

Answer: In the parent survey, we asked how they would feel if we had to go to 30% density reduction. At this point in time, given current conditions, that would only perhaps become a requirement at the high school level. And consistent with the parent feedback, our current plan that we’re working on would be the half day plan at the high school level. So yes, that’s something we’re working but just at the high school level.

Question: At the preschool level, what will half day and/or 50% occupancy of students look like for schools that have AM and PM sessions?

Answer: That’s a really good question. We have to make specific plans both for early childhood and for some aspects of the special education program. The director of early childhood education will communicate what the specifics will be with respect to early childhood.

Question: How will lunches, Physical Education, passing periods and the beginning and ending day procedures be different at the high school level? How will we enforce face coverings if we are in yellow or above on the COVID-19 dial?

Answer: With respect to lunches and physical education, those are some of the things we’re currently working on, so we don’t have those details yet. I can tell you the one thing our high school principals are working on in their buildings is making some of the flow be one directional, so certain hallways would be one way, certain stairwells would be up and others would be down to help control the flow throughout the building. And as for enforcing face coverings, we would do that just like we enforce dress code violations and like we enforce behavioral violations. We’ll go through that process but students who refuse to wear a mask will be moved to the remote learning option.

Question: I think one of my biggest concerns is feeling like classroom teachers need to be involved in some of these discussions and decisions. I and a lot of teachers that I’ve talked to have felt like decisions were made without our input – like we’re having a staff survey now, but we didn’t have one before the parent survey went out. We solve problems and anticipate problems 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s what we do all the time. It would be great if more of us were involved in anticipating some of these problems. For example, if kids come half days, teachers are going to be there full day in person, so what safety measures are being put in place to keep staff safe? I have a real concern about my building in particular, at Lincoln High. We have 3,000 people in our building – 2,500 kids – and there is no way to social distance 2,500 kids going through a 10-foot wide hallway, even if you’re going one way. There are so many details that I think are not being considered with this situation. And I wonder, would it be possible to start remotely? We have no idea what August is going to look like and what if we plan for in-person classrooms and suddenly there’s an outbreak and a spike and we have to go to remote learning? We’re going to have to do that on the fly. I think parents are going to have to scramble. Whereas if we started the school year remotely, we could give parents a chance to make some arrangements. I have real concerns about jumping into in-person instruction right away at the beginning of the year. And I think that raises a ton of concerns for staff and families as well.

Answer: Let me emphasize that we are equally concerned about the safety of students and staff. We wouldn’t do anything that puts students and staff at jeopardy. It’s why we’re working closely with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department and following all of their recommendations. I can assure you, they wouldn’t be giving us advice that didn’t have protocols in place to protect both students and staff. What we are learning – and of course things continuously are changing – and what the health department is advising us is that if you do three things, it becomes roughly the equivalent of physical distancing. Those things are: If people who have symptoms do not attend school; if people practice good hygiene habits; and if people wear a mask. Essentially, those are congruent to physical distancing. When you can add physical distancing to that, that’s great. But those three things, if consistently practiced, can take the place of physical distancing.

Your point about teacher involvement is a really important one and I completely agree with that. I just want to reiterate that the groups that Kristi Peters from Computing Services is working with, that are designing the things that teachers are going to be doing in the classroom, already have a large number of teachers who are involved. I would point out that all of the special education planning that Dr. Jenny Fundus has done has included a large number of teachers. Also, I think that’s a false assumption that we alone were making a decision about what our framework was. We worked collaboratively and under the guidance from the health department. They were telling us what to do to ensure that our framework would protect the safety and security of both students and staff. We’re working with principals this week to make sure that every school has created a reopening of school committee that involves teachers. So there’s going to be even more teacher involvement very quickly as we move forward. The curriculum specialists, now that we have a framework, are reaching out to your school department chairs and liaison chairs. So, we had to get certain pieces in place under the guidance from the health department before we could take that next step of heavy teacher involvement, but that’s coming very quickly and I’m sure you’ll see it.

Question: How would remote learning be different this school year than it was in fourth quarter last school year? Will students be moving rooms at the elementary level? If not, how will special education look?

Answer: Students will not be moving or movement will be substantially reduced at the elementary level. I can’t give you details on special education yet. Dr. Fundus and her team are working on those details and we’ll share them as soon as they are available. The way remote learning will look different is, in the last quarter of the year it was asynchronous. Kids were watching videos. They were doing it whenever they could and there wasn’t direct interaction. As we move forward into fall, should we need to go to remote learning and for those students who select it as an option, it will be synchronous – meaning it’s live. They’ll either be Zooming into a classroom or we’ll be Zooming with them if we’re 100% in the red zone on the COVID-19 Risk Dial.

Question: What options are available for teachers who are medically fragile and unable to attend school?

Answer: We are going to be communicating soon to any staff members about the process if they have been exposed to COVID or their physician has indicated to them that it’s not safe for them to return due to CDC risk factors. And in those cases, we will work with our healthcare response team, which is required by law. If we’re going to make any accommodations for their work, we have to go into what’s called the interactive process with those employees. We ask, What is your doctor telling you? What do you want to do as a result of those recommendations? And then can we make those accommodations? Can we make those reasonable accommodations while you’re still currently employed? Or do we need to look at situations like leaves of absence, those kinds of things. In the coming weeks we’re going to be working with those employees that are in high-risk categories that may need accommodations or modifications and we will do that through the healthcare response team process, through risk management.

Question: If someone in a classroom is diagnosed with COVID-19, what is the next step?

Answer: If it’s a student, obviously the first and foremost thing that can happen is contact tracing. And we are working hand in hand with the health department on that. In fact, we have cases now, with both students and staff, and we’re working with the health department on contact tracing. We identify the individuals that either the student or staff member has been close to so that they can self isolate. If an employee has direct exposure to COVID-19 and they’re told to self isolate, or if they themselves have COVID-19, they will need to self isolate. And in those cases risk management will work with them regarding leave. There’s additional paid leave that is available for individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Our communication with the health department about identifying individuals who may have had exposure, whether it’s with students or with staff, has gone very, very well. That would be the same procedure we would use once school starts.

Question: How will lunch be handled?

Answer: We’ve been having conversations about lunch and the general direction we are heading is that we will use the cafeteria for lunch. We know there is an idea or concept that was floated out there about bringing lunches to classrooms. I think we see that undertaking as very disruptive to the school day, so our conversation with the health department has been about using the lunchroom. In an elementary school setting, we’d discussed having students sit with their class so they don’t have as many contacts. We’ve had a conversation about the high school setting and the volume of students that go through the lunch line. The health department’s feedback is that it’s going to be really important to make sure students have their face covering on as they’re headed through the lunch line and then understanding they’re going out to that table and possibly sitting with some peers. But those peers might be students who they’re interacting with routinely anyway. And so we have talked about using the cafeteria for lunch, putting in additional hand sanitizer, putting in some additional cleaning procedures and making sure we have the face coverings as students are moving about the cafeteria.

Question: Will visitors be allowed in the lunchroom?

Answer: Most of our plans at the various COVID-19 Risk Dial levels, especially yellow and orange, do have some limiting of visitors. We are talking about specific groups, such as TeamMates, but this is all still being discussed and refined.

Question: How will plan periods work if students will stay in their classrooms at the elementary level?

Answer: I know we do have some facilities that are very stretched for places for teachers to go. But if the teacher doesn’t want to stay in the room during that time and have their plan time, I think they would need to find an alternate location in the building.

Question: How do we address the needs of students who need to see the teacher’s mouth to learn or a teacher needing to see the student’s mouth for them to learn a language, or a student who has speech issues?

Answer: We’ve been aware of that from the beginning and we’re making plans to address that. For example, in certain cases we will have clear plastic face shields for teachers of deaf or hard of hearing students or speech language pathologists to use. We’re looking into the possibility of having face coverings that actually have a clear plastic window so that the mouth can be seen. In addition to that we have received permission from the health department to at certain moments in primary grades when you’re teaching phonics lessons, to move your mask down so that students can see the mouth move. So there are reasonable accommodations that we can make to ensure that good, high-quality instruction can move forward, while still protecting students and staff.

Question: Along that line, would we be able to wear face shields instead of the cloth coverings?

Answer: Those details are still being ironed out.

Also, we have currently ordered two cloth face coverings for each staff member and each student. People can take those and use those or they can provide their own, as long as it’s a multi-layer covering. We’re not going to get too caught up in investigating the layers, but we would expect it to be multi-layer. So those have been ordered for staff and students for sixth through 12th grade – and we actually have those already. We have ordered child-size face coverings for the elementary level and expect those soon.

Question: How will we respond to students who refuse to wear a mask? Do we send them to the office like the dress code violation?

Answer: Russ Uhing and his Student Services team are developing the behavioral response that we’ll use and that will be shared with staff and principals as school approaches.

Question: What is the schedule for getting staff back into the building during the next month?

Answer: We have a reopening of facilities schedule. We’re staggering in July so the staff can access their buildings: The week of July 6 – Tuesday and Thursday – 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; the week of July 13 – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday – 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; the week of July 20 – Monday through Friday – 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Beginning July 27, badge access should work as it normally would. Also, a lot of people have said, Why can’t we just go access schools? I just want people to know that we have been trying to manage cleaning supplies.

Question: Will offices be open to parents and students? Have we considered plexiglass in certain high congestion areas?

Answer: Offices will be open to students and families. We have talked about limiting the number of people allowed into the office at one time. We are still exploring those options at this time. We are reviewing high traffic high congestion areas to determine if plexiglass is needed district wide.

Question: Will staff/students who travel be required to quarantine when they return as part of the requirements?

Answer: We will follow CDC and State of Nebraska guidance regarding quarantine when arriving from other locations in the U.S., etc.

Question: What will transportation and bus occupancy look like? If students need to social distance on the bus, will that prolong or stagger arrival and dismissal times?

Answer: We are currently working with the health department on protocols for buses.

Question: Will volunteers be allowed in schools?

Answer: As we start the school year no, with a small number of exceptions, e.g., TeamMates.

Question: Will we still have an open house?

Answer: There will be no in-person open houses. Open houses will be virtual and principals will work with teachers to develop a plan.

Question: Beattie Elementary has the deaf and hard of hearing program for students – how do classroom teachers teach with students who read lips as well as sign?

Answer: Clear shields/face coverings will be provided.

Question: If we’re in the red zone when school starts, will we begin remotely?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Will graduation requirements be waived or shifted for students (as they were for GoPo last spring) if students are not able to attend the full seven-eight classes at the high school level?

Answer: Requirements will be modified if that becomes necessary.

Question: If a student has some COVID symptoms or exposure for which they need to be quarantined, could they choose to be added into the Zoom sessions in the middle of the school year?

Answer: Yes.

Question: How would band students perform with masks on?

Answer: Dr. Lance Nielsen is working on specific guidelines for vocal and instrumental music. Those guidelines will be shared with music teachers ASAP.

Question: Will teachers receive professional development about remote learning?

Answer: Yes.

Question: What procedures will itinerant teachers need to practice as they move in a single day from one building to another?

Answer: Those guidelines are currently being developed.

Question: Would students wear masks at recess?

Answer: Yes, unless it is an excessive heat day.

Question: At the elementary level, there’s concern with keeping our in-person class engaged while also trying to keep kids that are Zooming engaged. Are there any privacy issues involved (kids that have a no photo decision from parents)?

Answer: Guidelines for Zoom-in are currently in development and will take into account privacy concerns.

Question: We wear our microphones all day, but some are concerned with feedback/sound quality due to the masks.

Answer: There should not be any feedback or sound quality issues with masks. We have communicated with the sound amplification company and they have assured us that masks should not impact the ability to amplify.

Question: Will there be a procedure for staff to be in touch with the district if they feel they need N95 masks, due to either more vulnerability to the virus or because they are working more closely with students who may pose greater exposure risk?

Answer: Yes, they should make request through the HCRT process through LPS Risk Management.

Question: Any talk of mask breaks for kids/staff? During the day outside?

Answer: Yes. There will be times when students and staff have “face covering breaks.”

Question: I’m concerned about the exhaustion level of teaching with a mask all day. Wearing it while not communicating is different but teachers communicate all day.

Answer: Amplification systems will help mitigate this.

Question: Having specials in the classroom during elementary teacher plans — with teachers having the option to leave the classroom — still poses some issues such as teacher access to materials and things in their classrooms to adequately plan and prepare for learning.

Answer: Principals will work with staff to address these issues.