Superintendent Update for 09/10/2021
Good Evening Panther Families,
I wanted again to update all of you on a few things going on in our district.
Current District OR-1 COVID Data:
- Updated 9.10.2021: In terms of COVID-19 data specifically related to our district, we have had eight positive student cases (4 at the elementary and 4 at the high school) and two staff positive cases in the district since the beginning of school on Wednesday, August 11th for a total of 10 total positive cases.
- All current “close contacts” associated with these positive cases have been notified and those individuals have either been quarantined or are self-monitoring and masking in accordance with local county health department guidance. These protocols continue to help us remain proactive in containing the possible spread of the virus while keeping our students and staff in school whenever possible.
- Despite the continuing challenges associated with the Delta Variant and the lingering effects from the pandemic, including a wide variety of public opinion and perspectives regarding the pros and cons of wearing masks, our students and staff remain focused on common goals: come to school, be safe, and continue to learn, engage, connect, and grow. I truly enjoy watching our students and staff show up, work hard, learn, and collaborate to help mitigate these challenges together.
- Overall, our staff and students continue to do very well continually adjusting to the challenges set before them, and they come to school each day ready to learn and give their best efforts to help each other through these most unprecedented times. Special thanks to our students and staff for all they do!
Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department DHM Update
- We continue to adhere to the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department’s Directed Health Measure for our students and staff at Bennet Elementary. The Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department’s (LLCHD) issuance of a county-wide Directed Health Measure (DHM) on August 26th mandated that masks be worn indoors by all people over the age of two in Lancaster County. The requirement applies to school buses and other forms of public transportation as well. This DHM (issued Thursday, August 26th) contains an end date of Thursday, September 30th. Whether this DHM stays in place, is removed, or is adjusted accordingly is yet to be determined. We will keep you posted on this information as it becomes available in the coming weeks.
- As we have stated before, this DHM (unlike the previous PK-6 mask requirement our district received from LLCHD on August 5th) is clearly established in state statute as having the force and effect of law. This DHM supersedes the previous Board of Education action taken on Monday, August 9th, and must be followed.
How does the LLCHD “DHM” continue to impact our current District OR-1 "Return to School" Plan?
- The biggest change in our current plan (updated August 26th) is that masks are mandatory for all staff and students on district buses and vehicles regardless of individual vaccination status or age.
- All individuals, while inside at Bennet Elementary School, are still required to wear face coverings of the nose and mouth regardless of vaccination status. This now includes clubs and activities taking place in the building after regular school hours.
- Even though our district vehicles do travel between counties, it is more efficient to have a standard operating protocol in place for students and staff riding the buses. Because of this, all students and staff riding in District OR-1 vehicles will need to wear a face covering of the nose and mouth and stay masked while they are in the vehicle. This includes out-of-town high school activities as well.
- This protocol avoids potential confusion about which county the bus (or vehicle) is in, minimizes driver distractions to keep attention safely focused on the road, and helps our bus drivers to better manage mask compliance.
- Please note: currently, once staff and students get off the buses at the high school, masks become recommended, but not required because the building is in Otoe County.
- Face coverings are still recommended for school and activities in the high school building in Palmyra, but they are not required.
- The DHM still does not restrict capacities for buildings or for indoor or outdoor events.
- Please refer to our website for more information regarding our most current “Return to School” Plan.
- With regard to further discussion about face coverings and our current “Return to School” plan, I am recommending that we continue to follow our current plan until further notice, or until the student and staff health conditions (or adjusted health department guidance) warrants a different response.
New Presidential Directives Regarding the Pandemic: 9.9.2021
- On Thursday, September 9th, President Biden issued some additional guidance related to COVID with federal directives aimed at slowing the spread of the virus and the current Delta Variant.
- Major components of the President’s plan can be found at the following link. Path Out of The Pandemic
- How the President’s proposed plan will impact Nebraska’s schools and our district remains to be seen. In the meantime, we will continue to move forward doing what we have been doing since the first day of school and that is to keep students in school and continue learning and growing as much as possible.
- Other initial components of the President’s plan are summarized below:
- The plan would require all employers with 100+ employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly:
- The President directed OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) to draft a rule to require employers with 100+ employees to ensure that their employees are either (1) vaccinated or (2) tested weekly.
- The plan would require all employers with 100+ employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly:
- The plan would include vaccine requirements for federal contractors and employees
- The two Executive Orders issued on Thursday (both of them are also attached to this communication) would impose vaccination-related requirements for federal contractors and federal employees. At first glance, it does not appear that these Executive Orders apply to Nebraska public schools, as these are not federal employees.
- The plan would require employers to provide “paid time off” to get vaccinated
- Depending on how OSHA drafts this rule, this rule may only apply to private-sector employers.
- The plan would require staff in federal Head Start programs to be vaccinated.
- The President directed HHS to draft a rule requiring all staff in Head Start and Early Head Start programs to be fully vaccinated.
- Additional FYI: Governor Ricketts has responded publicly to these Executive Orders and has stated that he will be working with Attorney General Doug Peterson to ..."explore all our options" in reacting to the mandates.
- Please stay tuned for more information regarding how this plan will impact our district moving forward.
Board of Education Meeting Information:
- This is just a quick FYI that the next regular meeting of our Board of Education has been changed to Wednesday, September 15th at 7:00 p.m. at Palmyra High School in the media center. This change of date is due to a communication mixup and the public notice for the regular meeting not being included in the local newspaper this week. This public notice will be listed in the Journal Star newspaper for this meeting only.
- The district Budget and Tax Request Hearings will still take place on Monday, September 13th at 6:30 and 6:45 p.m. respectively. These public hearings will be held in the media center at the high school.
- More information about the adjusted board meeting date and time and the Monday hearings is also available on our school website and Facebook page. Minutes of the hearings and meetings will be published after the meetings are completed.
NDE Health Standards Update:
- As many of you are aware, the Nebraska Department of Education was in the process of developing and implementing some “draft” Health Standards. After an abundance of public comment expressing concerns with some of the content in some of the proposed standards, the State Board of Education recently voted to postpone this matter until sometime in the future.
- Please see the following information from the State Board of Education:
- The Teaching, Learning and Serving Committee has reviewed input and feedback from the public and other external stakeholders, and considered the public comment heard and submitted since April regarding the draft health education standards.
- Further, the Committee has heard from public and nonpublic school leaders requesting to postpone additional initiatives and extra efforts until after the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The Committee also recognizes Board member concerns about the health education standards development process raised at the August 2021 meeting.
- Finally, the Board recognizes the need to reconsider stakeholder engagement processes with school leaders and other stakeholders. Therefore, the Committee proposes a statement to postpone the development of the health education standards, and recommends State Board adoption of the statement.
- As a district, we will continue to monitor any future developments regarding the health standards. For now, this topic should no longer be a recurring agenda item at our upcoming board meetings.
- It is important to note our district did not adopt any new health standards.
- Moving forward, we will continue to serve our students with the health related courses we currently have in place. At this time, the District OR-1 elementary (K-6) health curriculum is integrated within our science and social studies standards. We also use the Second-Step Character Education curriculum with our elementary students. Our school nurse and Educational Service Unit (#4) personnel also provide additional health-related services and information to students as needed and as requested.
- At the high school level, students are required to have 5 credits/hours of health-related classes in order to graduate. Generally, our 9th-grade students take this health course in conjunction with physical education on an alternating schedule. Other high school courses have also developed units of study within their classes to cover health education-related topics such as nutrition, exercise, child development, leadership, substance abuse, disease prevention, etc.
- Additionally, our junior high and high school students participate in our 8 to Great Character Education program and they have also attended informational assemblies and presentations on a variety of health education-related topics, such as social media awareness, team building, positive digital citizenship, healthy relationships, suicide awareness, self-esteem, and goal-setting. Our most recent student assembly was on Wednesday, September 8th. In this assembly, Aaron Davis (a former Husker football player and motivational speaker) came and visited with our grades 5-12 students about making good choices and following your dreams.
Upcoming District Dates and Events:
- Friday, September 10th: 7:00 p.m. - Homecoming Please note: At halftime, we will be honoring some of our most recently retired educators (Mrs. Church, Mr. Wergin, and Mrs. Hall). We hope to see you in attendance!
- Monday, September 13th: 6:30 p.m. Board of Education Budget Hearing at Palmyra High School in the Media Center.
- Monday, September 13th: 6:45 p.m. Board of Education Tax Request Hearing at Palmyra High School in the Media Center.
- Wednesday, September 15th: 7:00 p.m. Board of Education Regular Meeting at Palmyra High School in the Media Center.
- Tuesday, September 21st: 1:30 p.m. Dismissal and Parent-Teacher Conferences: Conferences will run from 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. More information regarding the specifics of conference schedules will be forthcoming from your building principals next week.
- Wednesday, September 22nd: No school for students. This is a Professional Development Day for our teachers.
- Friday, October 15th: End of First Quarter
- Friday, October 22nd: No School for Students or Staff: Fall Break
- Monday, November 15th: Winter Activities begin
- Tuesday, November 16th: No School for students. Please note: This is One-Act for our drama students and a staff development day for our teachers.
Thank you again for your support of our students, our staff, and our district. Together, we will continue to navigate our way through this most unprecedented time.
Have a great rest of your Friday and enjoy your weekend!