20200514_new_ops

A message is left along a fence at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Omaha. The Omaha Public Schools have been closed since mid-March, with remote learning for all students, as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues.

The Omaha Public Schools board once again declined to give Superintendent Cheryl Logan additional authority during emergencies.

On Wednesday night, the board debated the proposed policy for more than an hour. Only three of the board’s nine members, Marque Snow, Shavonna Holman and Ricky Smith, voted to approve the policy.

The proposed policy would have given the superintendent additional authority when a state of emergency is declared, such as a fire or tornado.

Under the proposal, the superintendent could have closed or limited access to schools, implemented emergency preparedness and response action plans or distance learning plans, and temporarily modified collective bargaining agreements after consulting the unions.

The superintendent would have had to consult the board president and vice president, and maintain close contact with the school board.

Omaha Education Association President Robert Miller, representing OPS teachers, spoke against the proposed policy.

“OEA has a high level of concern about granting the emergency powers that are totally broad and sweeping,” Miller told the board. “This policy would allow changes to be made in the negotiated agreement without input from you, the elected members of this board.”

Last month, the school board voted 5-3 to table the COVID-19 emergency resolution that would have given Logan additional authority. Four school board members said they were hesitant to give away their power as elected officials.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Snow pushed back against that idea.

“We are not losing any authority because we are the Board of Education,” he said. “There’s no policy that we can create where we lose our authority.”

Amanda Ryan, chair of the board’s policy committee, said she let the policy go before the board for the discussion, but she said she didn’t like it.

Board member Ricky Smith, who favored the policy, said the board needs to allow the superintendent to do the job she was hired to do.

School board members who spoke against the policy said their opposition had nothing to do with Logan or her performance but said their authority as elected officials was at stake.

“We are elected officials, and we feel like we have responsibilities that we want maintained,” said board member Tracy Casady.

Other members questioned why the policy was needed. Ben Perlman said the board already had a policy that gave the superintendent some emergency authority.

Lou Ann Goding said she was concerned that if the policy was enacted and approved that the public would never know if the district suspended a policy or entered into a contract.

“And to me, transparency is extremely important.”


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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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