Fort Report: School

Jul 24, 2020

Last night I held a tele-townhall to discuss the upcoming school year.  University of Nebraska President Ted Carter and Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Steve Joel joined me to share their plans for the University and our public schools.  After they thoughtfully reviewed their extensive preparations for a safe reopening, a grandmother brought us back to basics with the first question: “When will school start?”   

Lincoln Public Schools begin on August 12.  The school system has over 42,000 children.  The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected families across Nebraska, and school environments are a significant test for balancing the understandable desire to return to normalcy while protecting against the spread of the virus.  For many parents and grandparents who work regular jobs, this spring required them to add the role of teacher onto their already demanding schedules.  

The University of Nebraska will resume classes on August 17th.  Many students have already made a digital leap forward with online and zoom learning.  Interestingly the University has seen a significant increase in enrollment for the fall, an indicator of the strong interest to return to higher ed and the confidence in the safety measures underway. 

In times like this, it is paramount that parents and families hear directly from their leaders.  Here's some important points from our discussion.

President Ted Carter of the University of Nebraska offered the following:

  • The University has instituted free tuition for families earning under $60K and has frozen tuition for two years.  
  • New “COVID specific” changes such as social distancing in dorms and classes will be implemented.  Masks, hand-washing stations, contact tracing, and advanced cleaning of the classrooms are all a part of the plan.  
  • 70% percent of classes will be in person and 30% online.    
  • Regarding football: President Carter said, “I’m cautiously optimistic football will resume in full-form come September.” The Big Ten Conference is moving to a conference-only model for all fall sports and it is still unclear what fan capacity will be. 

Dr. Steve Joel related the following regarding Lincoln Public Schools: 

  • There will be in-person classes while students are expected to conduct a self-screen for virus symptoms prior to arriving at school.
  • Face coverings, hand hygiene, and physical distancing will be important as students return.
  • There will be an option for students to attend classes remotely if they desire to.
  • Superintendent Joel also hopes to resume athletics this fall.  He noted that some teams may assess the rates of infection in the communities they play before they will be willing to travel.  

While the focus of the conversation was on creating a safe environment and protecting the health of students, I couldn’t help but think of my friend Ms. Louise who sits next to me at the Husker football games.  I think she turns 97 this year.  She's there, in the rain, in the cold, with roster in hand, and with an occasional note of advice for the coaches.  She may not sit this year out--but even if she has to, I'm confident she will be plugged in digitally to the action.    

As our discussion with Nebraskans closed, President Carter eloquently spoke to the fact that having a presence in the school environment is part of a larger holistic approach to education.  I wish to thank both gentlemen for their commitment to young people and their leadership in the community.  Summarizing our conversation:  Eager to return, prepared for safety.