The Millard Public Schools announced Monday that it would join other districts giving anxious parents the choice of fully remote learning when school starts in August.
Some parents across the state have expressed concern that safety precautions in schools will not be sufficient to protect their children and families from the spread of COVID-19.
They have pushed for remote programs into which any child can enroll, not just those who have a medical reason.
Millard’s remote option will be open to any child, and no medical documentation is required.
“I firmly believe the best educational opportunity exists with students in class under the direct supervision of a teacher,” Millard Superintendent Jim Sutfin wrote in a letter to parents. “However, I also understand the current reality and the concern people have regarding the pandemic.”
Last week, the teachers unions in Nebraska’s two biggest school districts, Lincoln and Omaha, called for fully remote learning for all students. Both cited health concerns. State officials are still emphasizing that schools should open with students in buildings, though health officials are closely tracking the disease’s spread for signs that could undermine an in-person start to the school year.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said at a press conference Friday that having students in schools was “absolutely critical.”
He said “schools weren’t built to be empty.”
On Monday, he said he was not aware of any school in Nebraska that was not going to open with students in buildings.
Some parents have cited a lack of remote options for pushing them to consider home schooling.
The Bellevue Public Schools announced Friday that parents will have the option for their children to learn in-person or remotely.
Students will be required to remain in the program for at least one semester and will not be eligible to participate in extracurricular activities such as athletics and band.
The at-home learning program will utilize either a self-paced, web-based platform with support from a district teacher or a teacher-directed Zoom option.
The Omaha Public Schools is offering an all-remote option. Students would receive a schedule that matches in-class instruction, but all learning would be done at home.
Placement in the remote learning option is subject to need and availability. The placements would remain in effect for an entire semester.
At the conclusion of remote learning, students are guaranteed placement back into their former school or home attendance school.
Grand Island’s reopening plan has a remote option.
The Westside Community Schools in Omaha is also offering one.
Four days after that district sent out the form to participate in at-home learning, about 5% of Westside students had signed up for that option. Superintendent Mike Lucas told a community forum last week that he expected that number to grow to 8% to 10%. The deadline to enroll is Thursday.
Students have to commit to at-home learning for an entire quarter.
Lucas said some families have been upset about having to make the decision about at-home learning in July, but he said the district needs time to figure out staffing needs and logistics.
Attendance will be taken daily in this model, and school and state attendance policies will be followed.
At his Friday press conference, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state will continue to manage the risk as schools reopen.
The goal will remain the same, flattening the curve of infections to preserve the health care system, he said.
“Folks, this is a virus; we can’t stop it from coming,” he said. “And we have to continue to manage it going forward.”
He said that’s why social distancing, masking and hygiene remain important.
While it’s important to take steps to reduce risk, people also have to start returning to a more normal life, he said.
He used the analogy of highway deaths to explain how the state must balance the risks versus restrictions.
“We know we could reduce and eliminate almost all highway deaths if we took the speed limit on the Interstate down to 5 miles an hour,” he said. “Essentially, that’s what we’ve done with the restrictions we’ve put in place. But we manage that risk by putting things like seat belts on and putting speed limits, and that’s what we have to do to think about managing this virus.”
“We’re trying to find what is that right speed,” he said.
World-Herald staff writer Emily Nitcher contributed to this report.Our best staff images from July 2020