As the number of COVID-19 cases increase in Gage County, area schools are determining whether they need to adjust or move to a higher tier of their return to school plan. On Monday night, Beatrice Public School Superintendent Jason Alexander answered the school board’s questions and concerns regarding the district’s plans.
Alexander thanked staff, parents and the community for following the new school health protocols, and said it was a big reason why students have been able to learn in the school buildings so far this year.
“Our goal is to continue to keep kids in school at 100% capacity, as long as that‘s possible…Our plan on how to do that, obviously, first and foremost is to encourage healthy practices,” Alexander said. “By now, everybody knows what those healthy practices are, unless you’re an ostrich and you just choose to bury your head in the sand.”
Alexander said the district is looking at the number and rate of COVID-19 cases, both in the community and within the schools, and following guidelines from Public Health Solutions. He said administration is also a part of Beatrice’s Unified Command team, which also involves the city, Beatrice Community Hospital, the fire and police departments and other business entities.
“At the Unified Command meeting that we had this morning, there is a concern about the number of increase of cases…We’re seeing increased levels of concern overall statewide, regionally, locally and in the school,” Alexander said.
Alexander said he’s meeting with district staff on Thursday to hear their concerns.
“If you watched the evening news tonight, you saw that there’s another teacher that died of COVID-19,” Alexander said. “In a different state, but obviously that’s starting to raise some concerns. It’s natural that it would. Some people have underlying health conditions and so forth.”
Currently, BPS is in tier two of their plan, which makes masks mandatory, with an opt-out option. Possible tier three measures include requiring temperature checks for all students and staff, staggering exit times and locations, further restrictions on student interaction, and suspension of the opt-out option for masks. Tier four of the district’s plan is a move to total virtual learning.
Alexander said the decision to move to a higher tier of learning will be based on the number of cases in the region and in the school, and a “an overall concern from the Unified Command and administrative team.”
Board president Jon Zimmerman and board member Erin Chadwick asked Alexander if he had a certain number of cases in mind.
Alexander said it’s difficult to determine that. He predicted that schools will close because too many teachers will quarantine at one, and the district will not be able to get enough substitutes.
Board member Doris Martin agreed, noting Lincoln Elementary School closed in August for that very reason. She said even if the district had enough substitutes, that does not mean they’re qualified to teach a certain grade or class.
“What is really comes down to is when we talk to the people that are really following this information as closely as we are, what do we see as the best case scenario to protect staff, students, and the people in our community? And if- we may never, but if we reach that tipping point where we say we don’t have enough [substitutes] and are just at a critical point of mass spread, let’s go to tier three at this point, and tier four at this point. That will be what really makes sense,” Alexander said.
A dashboard updating the community on the number of active COVID-19 cases in the district, and what school is involved, is linked to the district’s website at beatricepublicschools.org/
More information about the Public Health Solutions risk dial, as well as current COVID-19 cases in Gage and surrounding counties, can be found at phsneb.org/
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