Remote learning? How many students and teachers had done or even heard of remote learning in January 2020?
The pandemic upended K-12 education in Nebraska and elsewhere in 2020. Schools shut their doors. Teachers and students were forced to connect virtually. And when school did resume this fall, it looked far from normal.
It was a weird, hard, frustrating and demanding year for teachers, students, parents, administrators and school support staff. As calendars are flipped to 2021, here’s a look back at how it all unfolded. From the early rumblings about COVID-19 in February to news of vaccinations in December.
Dr. James Lawler of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security addresses a gathering of area school officials at the Omaha Public Schools’ headquarters on Feb. 27.
Lawler tells them that area school districts would need to cancel large gatherings and possibly close schools if the coronavirus began to spread in the community.
After the meeting, OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan sends an email to school board members, saying the district’s schools could close within the next month because of the coronavirus.
Early in the month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells school officials to start planning for how they would teach kids during a closure, such as providing lessons online. Area districts start updating their pandemic plans.
On March 7, the Fremont Public Schools become the first in Nebraska to announce that they would close because of COVID-19. The March 9 closure, one of the first in the nation — even before the Seattle Public Schools — was supposed to last only three days. But the schools would not open again for five months.
On March 12, OPS announces that classes will not resume after spring break. Other area districts already scheduled to be off for spring break close schools a day early. In the coming days and weeks, the school closures keep coming until every school in the state stops offering in-person lessons.
By March 20, most schools are already closed to students, and the few remaining are closed by the end of the day.
The closing of Nebraska school districts and private and parochial schools forces teachers to quickly pivot from traditional classroom learning to remote learning for about 366,000 schoolkids in 1,200 schools.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt calls the shift “herculean.”
“It’s about as remarkable as I could imagine,” he said.
Blomstedt recommends that schools not return to normal operations for the rest of the school year.
On April 1, Gov. Pete Ricketts directs schools statewide to operate without students in their buildings through May 31. He also cancels extracurricular activities, meaning no spring high school sports season.
Blomstedt advises district leaders to draw up contingency plans in case the coronavirus crisis lingers.
Empty stadiums glow like beacons in the darkness as school districts turn the lights on to celebrate the class of 2020. Districts and parents come up with socially distanced celebrations to celebrate seniors.
The OPS board approves the purchase of about 54,400 iPads for all OPS students in case remote learning must continue in the fall.
Superintendents across the state try to prepare for the myriad ways the coronavirus could disrupt school in the fall, but they face a lot of unknowns.
Districts start preparing for the new school year by ordering masks and gallons of hand sanitizer. It’s a hint of what’s to come in the fall.
One by one, districts start releasing their plans for the fall. Some plan to bring all students back, while OPS announces that students will be divided into two groups that will attend school on different days.
Districts continue to announce more details about what school is supposed to look like in the fall. Members of the public pack school board meetings to cheer or jeer the plans.
School districts announce that they will offer fully remote learning options in the fall.
Omaha-area teachers gather at Memorial Park in support of a mask mandate.
Parents, teachers and students tell the OPS board that they are nervous about in-person lessons. Days before school is scheduled to start, OPS officials reverse course and announce that students in the state’s largest school district will start the year remotely and that all fall athletics and activities are suspended.
Students in other area districts return to school for the first time since March.
After a month of school, little spread of COVID-19 is tied to reopened schools, but some medical professionals worry about possible asymptomatic spread going undetected.
Dozens of athletes and parents protest outside OPS headquarters to demand that officials let them play sports. Sports remain suspended for the rest of the fall season.
COVID-19 kills the snow day. Several districts announce that their students will learn remotely on would-be snow days.
Enrollment in Nebraska public schools drops for the first time in 20 years. Enrollment in Catholic schools statewide drops by 1,400 students.
On Oct. 29, a custodian who worked at Grace Abbott Elementary School dies of complications from COVID-19, the first Millard Public Schools staff member to die of the disease.
Teachers in Nebraska say they feel overwhelmed and overworked, especially where they have been asked to simultaneously teach students learning remotely and those sitting in their classrooms.
The state teachers union petitions to mandate masks in Nebraska schools.
Teachers and school leaders say that while some Nebraska kids managed to keep pace academically from home the first semester, other remote learners fell so far behind that they are failing or at risk of it.
The first semester comes to a close. Teachers and students get a well-deserved winter break, but school won’t return to normal in January.
Some districts will go remote after winter break to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Masks, social distancing and hand-washing will continue in schools.
There is hope. Nebraska’s vaccination plan puts teachers in the second priority group. They likely will get the vaccine in the coming months.