Omaha Public Schools is working to make the best of a bad situation to resume classes this year. The strategy aims to address student and staff health needs, bolster academic instruction from the spring and pay heed to students’ emotional health.
“It is really important for us to be back in school,” Superintendent Cheryl Logan told The World-Herald. The key reason is, of course, academic benefit. In-class instruction is the most effective educational approach.
Enabling the return to school also will meet a key desire by students: Many of them really want to be there. Logan receives many messages from OPS students, she said, and they regularly stress how they want to be back with friends in familiar school settings, pursuing sports and other school routines.
OPS won’t be able to bring all students back to class on the same days, given the coronavirus threat, crowded buildings and the district’s large population of 54,000 students. Instead, the district will reduce the number of students in the classroom by half by using a combination of in-class instruction on certain days and remote learning on others.
Students whose last name begins with A through K will be in class on Mondays and Tuesdays. Those with last names beginning with L through Z will have in-class instruction on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be an in-class instruction day alternating between the two groups. Remote learning will be used on days when students aren’t in class.
Such a hybrid instructional approach is practical, given the situation, but raises grave concerns about whether students, especially those considered at risk, will truly learn. It’s fortunate the district will have an iPad with a wireless plan for each student. OPS must make every effort to create a consistent, effective learning environment for all students, given these tremendous complications.
Health protection is crucial, of course. OPS has masks for students and staff, and school routines will be adjusted to minimize health concerns. The district is making special outreach efforts to parents and guardians, for whom English is a second language in many cases. OPS will closely monitor health conditions both in classrooms and throughout the district. Students and staff whose health circumstances require special attention will be able to study or work from home.
Such accommodations show the need for flexibility — and for further adjustments to meet ever-changing conditions. As Logan rightly observes, “We know this is going to be a work in progress.”
The coronavirus has created big complications for school planning. With its announced strategy, OPS shows it’s done its homework in preparing for a fall reopening. But it also must be prepared to adjust further as needed to meet the inevitable challenges.