Omaha World-Herald. June 3, 2020.

Nebraska schools are right to explore creative approaches to their fall instruction

The coronavirus era has been an extraordinary learning experience for Nebraska schools. For the fall, it will need to be an innovative experience.

Everyone — students, teachers, administrators, parents — wants to bring back as much of the traditional instructional experience as possible for the fall. That’s understandable and sensible. In-class instruction has enormous value. The personal interaction makes school special for students and teachers alike. And shifting more of the virus-era instructional duties away from parents and back onto schools will be relief to many stressed households.

But after what we all have been through since March, everyone also recognizes the huge complications the virus has created in trying to return schools to anything like “normal.” If education in Nebraska is to take serious steps toward traditional instruction, it’s clear that schools must continue to demonstrate the creativity and collaboration they’ve shown this spring.

Nebraska educators and the state Department of Education have made clear they’re aware of all this. They acknowledge the challenges and that, above all, the central priority must be the health of the children and educators. Indeed, schools have a particular obligation to focus on health precautions, given that children can be easily be asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus if they’re not properly insulated from exposure.

The virus-related guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued for schools show the complexity of challenges facing Nebraska educators. World-Herald reporting described the directives. Among them: Teachers must wear cloth face coverings when feasible, the CDC says. Schools should avoid sharing electronic devices, books and gym equipment. Schools must close cafeterias and have students eat in the classroom, with their own meals or plated food in disposable wares.

Educators have long experience in translating regulations so they can be implemented in ways that work in the real world. New, envelope-stretching approaches will be needed to deal with the virus situation. Among the many options: Staggered scheduling (classes wouldn’t meet everyday). Expanded scheduling, to include Saturdays. A hybrid approach, with in-class instruction some days and online instruction on others.

School districts intend to use summer school to test new ideas, and the Nebraska Department of Education is facilitating constructive discussions among school districts.

The Westside Community Schools is setting a good example for other districts with its plans to hold community information sessions to explain details and receive public feedback. Westside’s sessions are scheduled for 6 p.m. at Westside High School on June 25, July 16 and July 30 and will be streamed online.

In the face of the virus threat, the way forward for Nebraska schools lies with innovation, flexibility and public involvement.


The Grand Island Independent. June 7, 2020.

If we want to recover, we need to be cautious

The stakes are higher for Grand Island and the Central District than some other areas of the state as we attempt to loosen restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

If we become complacent and neglect our duty to practice social distancing and wear face masks in public, we run the risk of once again becoming a hotspot. If that happens, the Nebraska State Fair likely won’t happen. That would be a terrible loss for our community and for the whole state.

The schools also could be unable to reopen in August. That would be terrible for the schools’ staffs, for the students, for the athletic programs, and for the quality of our children’s education.

When Dr. Jeff Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, spoke last week to members of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, he said that it is “critically important that until we can put this virus back in a box, we need to protect each other, and, most importantly, we need to protect those who are most vulnerable.”

Gold said COVID-19 is similar to any other highly communicable disease. Until we can all be vaccinated or there is a readily available treatment for people infected by the virus, we must do all we can to prevent it from being spread in our community.

He debunked the idea of herd immunity that has been promoted by some who say we can help develop immunity to the virus by spreading it.

Gold said the only way to responsibly develop herd immunity is through a vaccine, which we don’t have yet.

He said there has also been a little uptick of the virus in Nebraska since it began to reopen, but it has been very focused on early childhood centers and on long-term care sites. It has been extremely deadly when the virus has gotten into nursing homes, so they especially have been taking extreme measures to try to keep the virus out.

Gold said, “... if I have a choice of cursing the darkness or lighting a candle, I am going to be part of the group that will light a candle. So I am going to wash my hands, I’m going to maintain social distancing and I am going to wear my mask. I hope everybody else does, too.”

So do we. Be the candle, not the one who spreads the coronavirus.


Licoln Journal Star. June 7, 2020.

Listen to Nebraskans on trade, immigration

Given Nebraska’s agricultural heritage and economy, plenty of ambitious plans for the state’s future allude to growth.

Two areas lend themselves quite literally to that verb – global trade and immigration. The former helps grow the state’s economy; the latter has powered Nebraska’s recent population gains.

And, according to a recent survey, Nebraskans want more of both – as they should.

The study, conducted by the Yeutter Institute at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, found those two topics were front and center in the minds of Nebraskans surveyed from Omaha to Scottsbluff.

Political direction at the federal level, however, fails to reflect what Nebraskans want and need. Therefore, residents of this state must vocally advocate for freer trade and increased legal immigration.

Much of this centers on the state’s leading industry, agriculture, which we can thank for roughly a quarter of all jobs in Nebraska.

“Trade policy is viewed as the most important aspect of U.S. foreign policy for Nebraska’s middle class, particularly due to its impact in the agricultural production complex,” the report stated. “The message was remarkably consistent: the more international trade, the better.”

We couldn’t agree more – Nebraska benefits from a robust global marketplace. As a net exporter, the Cornhusker State sold $3.1 billion more overseas than it imported in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, Nebraska’s total exports fell by $500 million from 2018, especially troublesome as low commodity prices and natural disasters battered farmers and ranchers. Yet, as destructive as trade wars and tariffs are, they’ve been used to great harm to Nebraska’s ag producers.

Meanwhile, these same farmers and ranchers have struggled to find the employees, as crackdowns at the federal level have reduced the number of permits available to seasonal immigrant workers for farm fields or permanent workers to process meat at coronavirus-ravaged packing plants.

They’re not alone, either; Nebraska is creeping toward a looming workforce shortfall in many fields as baby boomers retire faster than they can be replaced, especially in rural areas.

The easiest way is to lean on the fuel for Nebraska’s recent population growth: immigrants. Without them, Nebraska would be staying level or slipping back in terms of residents. Instead, it’s growing at a rate that’s average or slightly better among the 50 states.

And Nebraskans realize this, as the study found: “Residents viewed immigrant families as the path back to population growth and, thus, the way to maintain or grow their businesses and schools.”

Today’s world is getting more globalized every day, not less, and Nebraskans understand the importance of selling the fruits of our labor across the world and rolling out the welcome mat to immigrants.

It’s time elected officials come around to the common sense Nebraskans have on these vital issues.