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Coronavirus blows up school rules for daily Pledge of Allegiance, fire drills, mandatory attendance

Coronavirus blows up school rules for daily Pledge of Allegiance, fire drills, mandatory attendance

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If schoolkids remain at home next fall, will the State of Nebraska still require schools to hold the daily Pledge of Allegiance?

Or require fire drills if the buildings are empty?

Does the state’s mandatory attendance law carry any weight if kids are doing geometry in their bedrooms?

Local school officials across the state want some answers.

Under normal circumstances, what happens inside a school is heavily scripted by pages and pages of state rules and laws.

Break them, and a school can risk funding or its accreditation.

But with COVID-19 blowing up the school year, schools have been unable to comply with many rules, and are poised to break more next year unless operations return to normal. School officials want to know which rules the state will make them follow and which ones they can punt.

Citing a rarely used state rule, school districts have chosen to take their concerns directly to the Nebraska State Board of Education, demanding that the board waive what rules it can and prevent districts from losing accreditation.

Without such guidance, they say in the petition, it’s difficult for them to plan for summer school and the coming year.

The petition was filed on districts’ behalf by Kraig Lofquist, executive director of the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council.

“Schools don’t want to lose their accreditation,” he said.

Getting the answers will help guide districts forward, Lofquist said.

“We’re trying to find the bottom and start moving our way up,” he said.

State board members accepted the petition Friday.

School buildings have been shut down since mid-March and will finish the school year with remote learning. Whether school will start normally next fall is anyone’s guess, but state officials are telling district officials to plan for additional disruptions.

Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he’s going to review the petition and make a recommendation to the board at its June meeting.

He said he appreciates the Coordinating Council submitting the petition. It will allow the department to chart a course forward for all schools instead of answering questions as they come in piecemeal, he said.

The petition asks the board to confirm that no school will lose state funding if they are unable to provide special education services to students because of the pandemic. It seeks clarity on whether they’re supposed to track instructional hours during the disruption.

Blomstedt has already signaled a willingness to be flexible on instructional hour requirements. He worked to suspend state academic testing for the year and certain accountability measures next year.

He told state board members Friday that he understands the challenge schools are facing next year.

“We’re answering a lot of questions about what happened this year,” he said. “There are all the more questions to answer for next year because we don’t know about a lot of the conditions that we may face.”Our best staff photos of May 2020

joe.dejka@owh.com, 402-444-1077

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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

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