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Education
special report
A glimmer of hope for fall: Nebraska to allow groups of 20 for summer school, camps

New guidance issued for Nebraska schools will allow groups of up to 20 people to gather for summer school, camps and programs, raising hopes that if all goes well kids might also return to class in the fall.

The guidance from the Nebraska Department of Education comes with a slew of recommended health practices, however, including that adults and older students wear masks.

The department developed the guidance in consultation with health experts, a spokesman said.

It takes effect June 8.

The guidance is not mandatory for the state’s schools but is just a recommendation at this point, according to department spokesman David Jespersen.

The guidance could extend into the fall, depending on what happens between now and then regarding the disease.

Twenty is the “base number” that officials are eyeing for the fall, but limits could vary across the state depending on local conditions.

“There might be some places that the 20 number makes sense, there might be other places that, no you can’t have anybody in there and you have to do remote learning,” Jespersen said.

The new guidance comes as the governor’s order that closed Nebraska schools expires on May 31. On April 1, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a directed health measure that ordered schools to operate without students. Schools finished the year with distance learning via computer and by paper packets distributed to students.

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The guidance recommends that while at school, students remain grouped with the same staffers rather than changing throughout the day. It also calls for maintaining social distance between people.

It calls for adults and children to wash hands at least every two hours and after various activities including after using playground equipment, eating, arriving and exiting the school, and using the bathroom.

It requires sick kids and staff to stay home, and recommends screening kids for sickness on arrival.

The guidance calls for adults and older students to wear cloth masks. Children under 2, and people with severe breathing difficulties, should not wear masks, the guidance says.

The guidance won’t change summer school plans for several metro districts, including the Omaha Public Schools, Elkhorn Public Schools, Millard Public Schools, Bellevue Public Schools and Papillion-La Vista Community Schools. Officials with those districts indicate that they will stick to their plans for virtual summer school, which follows an earlier state recommendation.

Annette Eyman, spokeswoman for Papillion-La Vista, said the guidance is coming too late to change the district’s plans, but it’s “definitely a step in the right direction.”

The Gretna Public Schools had already planned to have no more than eight students per classroom in its first-, second- and third-grade summer reading program.

Superintendent Rich Beran said his district won’t be raising sizes of those classes to 20. Nor will his district require masks.

The students who are enrolled in Gretna’s summer school have struggled with reading, he said, and big groups and remote learning are not ideal for teaching reading.

“When you’re teaching kids to read, you really want small groups,” he said.

Teachers will do their best to practice social distancing, but there will be times when that’s not possible, he said.

“When you’re trying to teach a kid to enunciate something, you gotta be able to see their mouth and see what they’re doing. You can’t do that with a mask.”

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said the guidance reflects “our latest and best understanding of safe but reasonable approaches.”

Although schools do not have to follow the guidance in every detail, it would not be acceptable for school officials to dismiss it outright, he said.

He said it’s generally accepted that masks can substantially limit the spread of the virus.

“I understand the limitations that may be present for some students based on age or other conditions,” he said. “Best practice, as we’ve been advised, would be to ensure that those students that are able to wear masks wear them when practicable.”

Masks may be more important where social distancing is less practical, he said. For instance, in a classroom setting, where there is room for social distancing, masks may not be as important as in hallways, he said.

Blomstedt said the state will be asking local school officials who are implementing in-person instruction this summer to report how it’s going.

“Overall, we will be working to refine (the guidance) during the summer to improve guidance and procedures for the fall,” he said.


Photos: The last day of the 2020 school year

Photos: The last day of the 2020 school year

Articles
Trump signs order targeting social media companies

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday targeting social media companies such as Twitter, accusing them of having "unchecked power" and escalating his feud with the same technology platforms he's using as a political bullhorn in an election year.

"We're fed up with it," he said in the Oval Office.

The president has little power to modify federal rules without an act of Congress, but his actions — if upheld by the courts — could increase political and financial pressure on social media companies by opening the door to lawsuits and regulatory reviews.

Legal experts said they don't expect the order to pass judicial muster. Critics accused Trump of misusing his authority to try to intimidate Twitter, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies.

Trump waved off questions about whether he was overstepping his authority with the order, saying, "I guess it's going to be challenged in court, but what isn't?"

The move came two days after Twitter added a disclaimer to two Trump tweets that falsely saidmailin ballots led to widespread voter fraud. Although Twitter did not delete his tweets, the president accused it of censorship — lashing out on Twitter.

"So ridiculous to see Twitter trying to make the case that Mail-In Ballots are not subject to FRAUD," he tweeted Thursday. "How stupid, there are examples, & cases, all over the place. Our election process will become badly tainted & a laughingstock all over the World."

The sparring with social media companies is another dividing line in the 2020 election. Conservatives say their voices are not heard, and liberals demand greater efforts to flag falsehoods and disinformation — especially from the president.

Under the First Amendment, the government cannot ban or censor free speech. But Twitter is not the government, and Section 230 of a 1996 federal law called the Communications Decency Act specifically protects Internet companies from lawsuits or other liability for moderating content posted by users, or for the content itself.

In his executive order, Trump aims to modify the scope of Section 230.

If a company edits content — apart from restricting posts that are violent, obscene or harassing — "it is engaged in editorial conduct" and "forfeits any protection" under the law, according to a draft version of the president's order posted online by Kate Klonick, a professor at St. John's University School of Law in New York.

The order directs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to request new regulations from the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether a social media company is acting "in good faith" to moderate content.

In theory, that could open the door to users suing social media platforms if they feel that their posts are restricted inappropriately. But it could also make the companies more likely to take down false or misleading content rather that just add a disclaimer — the opposite of what Trump wants.

"That's the irony of all this," said Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford University law professor who studies technology and democracy. "The platforms will bemuch more aggressive in their automated filtering to go after content that could raise their legal liability."

Legal experts are skeptical that Trump's order would pass judicial scrutiny given the wide berth Congress has given social media companies to police their own platforms. But the plan could provide another outlet for growing conservative resentment toward social media companies, which some on the right accuse of censoring or downplaying conservative political messages.

Trump is a prolific Twitter user, often tweeting or retweeting dozens of times a day. This week, he suggested that Joe Scarborough, an MSNBC host and former congressman, killed an intern in 2001.

The president's reelection campaign also relies heavily on social media platforms, particularly Facebook, to aggressively target voters for the November election.

There's bipartisan support in Washington for updating regulations regarding social media companies.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has called for revoking Section 230 entirely. In an interview with the New York Times editorial board, he said Facebook and other social media companies were "propagating falsehoods they know to be false" and "it's totally irresponsible."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said social media companies' "business model is to make money at the expense of the truth and the facts." She has been the target of doctored videos — at least two of which were circulated by Trump — that Facebook has refused to take down.


Articles
Regulars are back on their bar stools in Council Bluffs and 'it feels normal'
Customers return as bars in Iowa reopen at 50% capacity; Omaha pubs will follow, reopening Monday

As Rees Tsetsakis sat in The Salty Dog Bar and Grill in Council Bluffs on Thursday with a pint of beer in front of him, he said he felt normal. And normalcy was significant to the truck driver from Tennessee who had waited two-months to sit down at a bar and have a cold beer.

"It feels normal, and that feels good," he said.

Bar owners and patrons in Council Bluffs raised a glass to bars reopening Thursday, and perhaps offered a glimpse at what's to come in Omaha.

Iowa bars, closed since March 17 because of COVID-19, can now open at 50% capacity for indoor or outdoor seating. In much of Nebraska, including the Omaha area, bars and lounges can reopen Monday under the same rules that now apply to restaurants — including operating at 50% capacity, with parties spaced out at least 6 feet.

The scene at many Council Bluffs bars was one of normalcy. Friends sat at tables, drank and talked. A few games of darts were played, and at the six bars visited by a World-Herald reporter, no one wore a face mask.

Still, a few measures to combat the coronavirus could be seen. Many of the bars had rearranged seating to help customers comply with the call for 6 feet of distance, and a few had bottles of hand sanitizer readily available.

At the 1892 Beer House, bartender Drue Cull said games like darts and pool had been removed and tables were spread further apart.

One customer sat at the bar at 6 p.m. Cull said business had been pretty slow since the bar opened at 4 p.m., but he was sure that it would pick up as the night went on. Slow or busy, Cull said he's thankful to reopen. "It's really good to get back to work and get in the swing of things," he said. "We took out the pool table and games that people touch, implemented a little more table space."

Kelsie Nelson served drinks at the BLK Squirrel. She said it was nice to be back at work.

"We're really excited to be back, we've missed our customers quite a bit, and we haven't had that faceto-face interaction, so being able to do that is nice," she said.

A short walk away, T'z Sports Pub had to ask a few customers to wait outside to avoid going over capacity.

Owner Trent Tiessen said the bar had not been able to provide to-go orders or takeout but was excited to welcome customers back.

"I can't wait to have everybody back to enjoy great weather and see everyone's smiling faces," he said. "Everyone that works here wanted to come back and get the ball rolling again."

Courtney Durham of the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067


Local
special report
News to start your day: Bars reopen in Council Bluffs; O'Neill greenhouse is fined

The latest coronavirus numbers 

Nebraska cases: 13,261

Nebraska deaths: 164

Iowa cases: 18,584

Iowa deaths: 509

U.S. cases: 1,720,613

U.S. deaths: 101,573

'It feels normal, and that feels good': Bars reopen in Council Bluffs

As Rees Tsetsakis sat in The Salty Dog Bar and Grill in Council Bluffs on Thursday with a pint of beer in front of him, he said he felt normal. And normalcy was significant to the truck driver from Tennessee who had waited two months to sit down at a bar and have a cold beer.

“It feels normal, and that feels good,” he said.

Bar owners and patrons in Council Bluffs raised a glass to bars reopening Thursday, and perhaps offered a glimpse at what’s to come in Omaha.

'It feels normal, and that feels good': Bars reopen in Council Bluffs

The scene at many Council Bluffs bars was one of normalcy. Friends sat at tables, drank and talked. A few games of darts were played, and at the six bars visited by a World-Herald reporter, no one wore a face mask. Still, a few measures to combat the coronavirus could be seen.

Received a prepaid debit card instead of a stimulus check? It's not a scam

Have you been mailed a prepaid debit card? The Better Business Bureau wants you to know that it's not a scam.

Almost 4 million Americans have received a prepaid debit card instead of a stimulus check.

MetaBank, the Treasury Department’s financial agent, sent the cards to those who don't have the necessary bank account information on file with the IRS to receive a check or direct deposit.

O'Neill greenhouse is fined two years after ICE raid

A tomato greenhouse and packing plant in O’Neill, Nebraska, was fined Wednesday for its role in a conspiracy to harbor undocumented workers.

O’Neill Ventures Inc. was sentenced to pay $400,000, due immediately. The company agreed to the fine in February as part of a plea deal.

The fine exceeded the recommended sentencing guidelines range of $70,000 to $140,000. Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Gerrard said that the higher amount was warranted because of the conditions workers experienced at the tomato plant.

The August 2018 raid of the plant and other businesses in the O’Neill area was one of the largest ever by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. More than 130 workers were detained and 17 people arrested in connection with an illegal employment service run by Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado, who took a cut of the undocumented workers’ paychecks and failed to pay taxes.

Read more.

 


Our best staff photos of May 2020

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020