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Ricketts urges returning college students to take health rules seriously to prevent COVID-19 spread
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Ricketts urges returning college students to take health rules seriously to prevent COVID-19 spread

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With in-person learning starting Monday at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts had some words for college students: Follow the health rules.

“Please, take our rules seriously,” Ricketts said. “I know that social events are part of what makes the college experience great. But please follow our rules with regard to trying to keep that 6-foot distance. Wear a mask when you can’t make that happen.”

Those steps, he said, will help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and ensure that the university can continue to hold in-person classes.

Ricketts made the comments at a press conference focusing on students, both K-12 and college, returning to school. The event included remarks from an advocate for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, who said remote learning is a particular challenge for them.

Ricketts said it’s vital that parents cooperate with contact tracers from local health departments.

When someone tests positive, he said, local public health departments conduct contact tracing. They investigate, have the person quarantine and track down who they might have had contact with in the previous two weeks, he said.

“I highly encourage parents to cooperate when this is your children,” he said. “It is incredibly important so that we know who may have been infected.”

Ricketts encouraged parents to get their children tested if they suspect a child has the virus. If they’re showing symptoms or awaiting test results, he said, kids should stay home.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said that it “feels right” to see kids returning to school and that students, teachers and superintendents are excited.

“Even with my own children, I’ve seen that, too, that there’s an excitement to be able to get back,” he said.

Blomstedt said students are learning in school how to be safe.

“I’ve already been lectured by my own kids on certain things, on how to do best, and how to thoughtfully be safe in public settings,” he said, “because they’re talking about that in their school setting already.”

Blomstedt said he’s pleased to see that the procedures for responding to COVID-19 cases involving students are largely working well.

Some of the cases that have been showing up as districts reopen were brought into the schools by people who contracted it elsewhere, Blomstedt said: “It wasn’t necessarily spread that took place in school.”

Schools should make sure that they address students’ needs and adapt if things aren’t working, he said.

John Wyvill, executive director of the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said that after the school shutdown in March, officials learned that working remotely doesn’t produce the best outcomes for students with hearing impairments.

Wyvill said Nebraska has nearly 900 students who have been identified as deaf or hard of hearing. He said schools have a duty to provide them with an appropriate education.

“That’s what the students are owed, and quite frankly that’s what the students deserve,” he said.

“Unfortunately, putting teachers, who are trained to teach in a classroom setting, in a remote environment is not exactly the most ideal environment for deaf and hard-of-hearing students,” he said.

Parents, guardians, grandparents and other caregivers don’t always have the training and skills to help their kids succeed in a remote environment, Wyvill said.

Students miss out on the social interaction, he said, which can exacerbate mental health issues.

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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