A midsummer update

As we reach the halfway point of the summer, this is a good time to update our stakeholders on some of the planning taking place.

Proposed ‘Safe Return to School Plan’

As you are aware, we intend to make a few modifications to our summer school plans by moving to “strongly recommend” when it comes to face coverings for students who are not vaccinated. We will require staff who are not vaccinated to wear face coverings. As conditions change (hopefully, for the better), we will adjust our protocols. Please visit our website to review the proposed plan and take a moment to provide feedback.

Nebraska Department of Education Health Standards Draft

We are aware there is concern among some parents that the draft of health standards proposed by the Nebraska Department of Education are viewed as extreme and not age appropriate. Until the NDE determines to adopt new health standards, we are a long way from having the conversation at our local school board level. We certainly have questions and concerns about what might be expected of us in the future, as we recently made a significant purchase for materials that complement our existing standards that have been widely approved and accepted by our families, staff and community. While several state senators have called for us to denounce the standards, we believe there is nothing to denounce as the standards do not exist at this point. The document put forth by NDE is a draft and was published to gather feedback.

Critical Race Theory

I want to be clear that we have NOT adopted any curriculum that centers on the teaching of CRT. While we have been working on equity for a number of years, we approach this work through the lens of needing to understand more about our students so we can build high-quality relationships to improve outcomes. As we continue to review our data, we have historical patterns within certain student groups that we must address if we want to ensure that ALL of our students succeed. While this includes understanding our personal biases and some of the systemic biases that exist within our schools, it does NOT include the shaming or blaming of anyone for what has occurred in the past. If we are successful in this work, this generation will grow to become more culturally sensitive, kind and understanding with respect to the differences among all of us. That is our goal and why our Board of Education has prioritized equity as a strategic goal for several years.

Finally, as we head into what will probably be another challenging year, I want to point out that decisions we make have to be for 42,000-plus students and 8,000 staff members. While we appreciate hearing from our public and always want to ensure that we are performing up to community expectations, it is impossible to meet all the concerns expressed. At the end of the day, we will continue to make the best decisions that fit within our mission of educating all children.

We truly are looking forward to the first day of school on Aug. 16. I can’t wait to see the very first day of school for a kindergarten student, or a sixth-grader triumphantly opening their locker for the first time. These are the moments that make the educational experience a wonderful and prideful memory for all of us.

Steve Joel