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Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt

Recent events have highlighted the need for educators to move from aspirational messages about racial equality to action, Nebraska’s education commissioner says.

“We must create space to genuinely and intentionally embed racially diverse perspectives into our conversations and actions,” Matt Blomstedt said in a Wednesday letter to all superintendents in Nebraska.

In the letter, Blomstedt outlined steps to make that happen in the classroom. It includes engaging historically marginalized communities, promoting active anti-racist teaching and committing to culturally relevant standards, providing resources to support productive conversations in the classroom and getting more educators of color into the workforce.

“The conversation about racial inequities must occur everywhere to prepare our students in every corner of the state to better face the challenges of our nation,” Blomstedt wrote.

Other education leaders in the Omaha area also have issued statements in recent days pledging to foster learning environments where all students are welcome and reminding students of available counseling services.

The statements come as protests continue nationally and locally over the deaths of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer, and Omahan James Scurlock, who was fatally shot in a confrontation with a bar owner in the Old Market.

Blomstedt said the protests are not only in response to the recent violence against the African American community but “a manifestation of frustrations spawned from generations of racism, disenfranchisement and marginalization realized by many of our community members and students across the state.”

Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan sent a note to families and staff Tuesday evening.

“As a mother, the senseless tragedies strike a chord of anguish,” Logan wrote. “Our common humanity unites us as we try to explain current events to our children.”

She added that the events may cause anxiety, anger, fear and confusion. She said the district’s partnership with Boys Town allows families to speak with a trained counselor at any time. The number is 531-299-7233.

Logan said on Twitter that the district is creating spaces for students to come together and talk. Some would be virtual meetings and others would be small groups. Participants would be required to wear masks.

Westside Community Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas and the school board put out a joint statement Monday.

“Like so many in our Westside Community, we have been disheartened by the death of George Floyd and the pain wrought by racial disparity and injustice in our country,” the statement said. “Our minds and hearts are with all of our students and staff members that are struggling to make sense of the world around us. We are struggling with it, too.”

The statement went on to make promises to students and their families that included educating any student who walks through their doors and becoming better practitioners of equity.

“We will commit ourselves to the deeper study, education and discussion of equity, and to a greater appreciation of our similarities and differences with candor, sensitivity and understanding, at all levels of our organization, and in all of our classrooms.”

Bellevue Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Rippe said his district’s students are “our guiding light” and Bellevue continues to build a culture of belonging for students. Rippe also reminded families that they can speak with a trained counselor at any time. The number for Bellevue is 800-448-3000, and people also can text VOICE to 20121.

Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin tweeted Tuesday that his heart breaks for all that is happening in the state and country.

“My thoughts are with those who are trying to express deep & difficult message, and who are struggling to be heard above the violence,” Sutfin wrote.

Photos: Pastors hold “For North Omaha” rally

Emily covers K-12 education, including Omaha Public Schools. Previously, Emily covered local government and the Nebraska Legislature for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @emily_nitcher. Phone: 402-444-1192.

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