Some Nebraska schools closed by the pandemic should be able to open in the fall on their scheduled calendar start dates, Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts, Blomstedt said opening dates would depend on local health conditions.
“I do think that there will be areas of the state that will be able to keep pretty much their regular calendar intact, and I think that’s what folks are interested in,” he said. “But we are also asking schools to be very thoughtful about digital and remote learning as we continue down that path.”
He said schools can use summer to help figure out the best practices and policies that would work in the fall, including how to use technology to address learning gaps and continue learning in a disruption.
To assist districts in planning and preparing for a restart, he said, the Nebraska Department of Education has created a website, launchne.com.
The website suggests a host of procedures for districts to undertake for ensuring that buildings can be reopened and operate safely. It also provides checklists of procedures districts would have to work out. Some examples: changing air filters regularly, making parents wash their hands before entering a building, controlling entrances, posting signs about hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting playgrounds, addressing students’ mental health and determining how a district would test and grade students.
Blomstedt said data collected through the TestNebraska program will aid in the eventual opening decisions.
“The reality is for us we’re going to have better and better data as we go through the summer to be able to make really solid decisions,” he said.
He said he believes the state will have students in schools in the fall, “but there is a lot of effort necessary yet.”
School buildings across the state closed in mid-March on the recommendation of state officials, in an effort to blunt the spread of the virus. There had initially been hope of a reopening this spring. But Ricketts subsequently issued a directed health measure requiring all public, private and parochial schools to operate without students through May 31. The order canceled all extracurricular activities as well. It limited public gatherings to 10 people.
Schools have been converting their normal in-person summer school offerings to remote learning.
Ricketts said that in addition to data collected in Nebraska, data should be available from other countries that have reopened schools. He mentioned South Korea and Sweden.
He said decisions would be made collaboratively, and he praised several school superintendents for their response to the pandemic so far.
“We’ve got people who are thinking about this who are great, intelligent leaders who are working with the commissioner,” Ricketts said. “So I’m confident that working together we’ll be able to put together a plan for kids to come back to school in the fall.”