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Hastings school board hears request for stronger racial justice policies

At a time of heightened racial tension nationwide, three patrons of Hastings Public Schools brought to the Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday a desire to implement a stronger set of racial justice policies.

The first speaker, Brady Rhodes, said the current moment is a great opportunity for school districts to address racial inequality.

“Racism is complex and contentious,” he said. “Many of us are afraid to even broach the subject. It’s often easier and safer to avoid the topic altogether. Our silence and inaction reinforces the status quo. Avoidance speaks volumes. It communicates to students of color that racism doesn’t matter enough to warrant attention and by omission invalidates their experiences, perspectives and identities. White students on the other hand often see racism being accepted and normalized without acknowledgement or accountability. To engage real solutions we need to address real problems.”

Rhodes, a former school board member, said he doesn’t think the district needs to implement an entirely new curriculum. Training and classroom discussions are stepping stones to address racism in schools, he said.

Andrew McCarty, a former middle school teacher who now works as a nurse at Mary Lanning Healthcare, said according to the latest census data, 11% of the Adams County population is Hispanic or Latino.

“When you’re talking about racism and racial inequality, that’s all races,” he said. “That’s all ethnicities. We do have a diverse student body here in the district. I think we have some socio- and economic challenges in our community.”

Despite the size of the Hispanic population in the Hastings area, McCarty said, Hispanic families tend not to be engaged in community processes and rarely attend city council or school board meetings.

“Because that’s one of our larger demographics as far as students go, I think that’s certainly something to consider, especially during all this craziness that’s going on,” he said.

The third speaker, Jessica Combs, has mixed-race children who attend Hastings Public Schools, where she said they have experienced racism.

She organized a Black Lives Matter event in Hastings Sunday that drew 300 people.

“If you guys really want to know and really care, ask them to a meeting and say, ‘Is this happening here? How are we responding to it here? How would you like us to see it?’ ” she said.

Board members thanked the speakers for attending Monday’s meeting.

Board President Jim Boeve said it would be helpful to ask district administrators to research what applicable policies already are in place.

“I think some of us might be surprised that we already have a lot of policies in place,” he said. “It’s just maybe do we need to tweak some? Do we need to put them in action?”

Superintendent Jeff Schneider said in some cases it would be a matter of formalizing policies.

David Essink, HPS director of human relations and operations, previously worked as a middle school principal and spent 16 years as a teacher.

“I think some of the most effective ways of addressing this are those times you don’t really plan for — teachable moments,” he said.

He said teachers might be able to benefit from professional development.

Also during the meeting, board members:

  • Voted 8-0 to approve a resolution to issue bonds, not to exceed $6 million, for the Morton Elementary remodeling project.
  • Unanimously approved the engineering services proposal from Engineering Technologies of Lincoln in the amount of $124,800 for the Morton project.
  • Unanimously approved the physical therapy contract with Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab of Hastings for the 2020-21 school year at $55 per hour.
  • Unanimously approved the superintendent’s salary increase for 2020-2021 for $196,441, including $5,000 repayment of moving expenses.
  • Unanimously approved the substitute rate increase from $140 per day to $145.
  • Unanimously approved a 3.3% salary increase for classified staff.
  • Unanimously approved a 3.3% salary increase for administrative staff.

Mary Lanning relaxes some restrictions on hospital visitors

Many hospital patients at Mary Lanning Healthcare once again are being allowed visitors under a relaxation of some restrictions in the hospital’s visitation policy related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Effective Monday, one healthy adult visitor will be allowed in most patients’ rooms at any given time. Immediate family members still are preferred.

Patients being treated for COVID-19 still won’t be allowed visitors.

In special circumstances, such as when a patient is near death or has come out of major surgery, exceptions may be granted.

Very few visitors have been allowed at Mary Lanning or other area hospitals since the COVID-19 emergency came to the fore in March.

Now, with the local COVID-19 situation seemingly under control (Mary Lanning had just one patient with the disease in the hospital as of June 5), and with statewide guidelines aimed at thwarting the spread of the virus being relaxed in a number of respects, Mary Lanning is adjusting its policies, also.

A number of important restrictions will remain in place for the time being, however.

Here’s a list of updated visitation rules announced by the hospital in a news release Monday:

  • Visitors should continue to use the North Entrance only. (The main entrance on the east side of the building has been closed to visitors for weeks.)
  • Visiting hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on weekends.
  • One healthy adult visitor (immediate family preferred) is allowed in the patient room at a time.
  • No visitors under age 18 are allowed.
  • Minor patients, neonatal intensive care unit patients and newborns are allowed two healthy parents/guardians at a time.
  • One healthy adult support person is allowed for surgery patients at the time of surgery. One visitor per patient is allowed on the nursing unit if the patient is admitted.
  • No visitors will be allowed for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • In extenuating circumstances, such as imminent end-of-life situations, after major surgery or patients requiring extra support, temporary visitation terms may be granted. The patient’s care
  • team must approve all exceptions.
  • Clinical staff has the authority to monitor the number of visitors and restrict visitation as needed to meet the patient’s needs.
  • All visitors will continue to be screened when entering the hospital. Screening will be minimized, however, with visitors being asked, “Have you felt ill or had symptoms of an illness within the last 24 hours?” Also, visitors will be required to wear a mask while in the building.

In its first update since June 4, the South Heartland District Health Department announced Monday evening that only one additional new case of COIVID-19 had been confirmed in the four-county health district in that timeframe.

The new patient is an Adams County woman in her 20s.

Since March 18, Adams County has recorded 278 cases of COVID-19 among its residents. Clay County has recorded 24 cases; Webster, five; and Nuckolls, one, for a districtwide running tally of 308. The district has seen 11 deaths, all among Adams County residents.

For the week of May 31-June 6, the “positivity rate” for the district — the number of new confirmed positive cases as a percentage of the total number of tests administered — was 2.1%. That rate was steady with the previous week’s.

“We continue to conduct contact investigations for individuals who test positive and live in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls or Webster counties,” said South Heartland Executive Director Michele Bever. “Anyone who has symptoms should self-isolate and we direct close contacts to quarantine and self-monitor for symptoms.”

With testing opportunities more readily available than they were several weeks ago, the health department also urges district residents to go ahead and be tested for the infection.

“We encourage people to get tested for COVID-19, especially those in high risk groups and those who are experiencing symptoms,” Bever said.

TestNebraska will be in Hastings at the Adams County Fairgrounds, 947 S. Baltimore Ave., from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday. The testing is conducted by trained personnel from the Nebraska National Guard.

To take the assessment and schedule an appointment through TestNebraska, go to the website website TestNebraska.com/en for English, and TestNebraska.com/es for Spanish.

“More testing helps us know the level of the COVID-19 virus in our communities and helps us reduce the spread of the disease,” Bever said.

As of Monday evening, Nebraska’s statewide running tally of positive COVID-19 cases to date was 15,752, with 188 fatalities, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported.

Adams Central hopes to bring students back in the fall

While it’s still unknown how the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, will affect schools in the fall, the Adams Central Board of Education hopes to make the experience as normal as possible for students.

Superintendent Shawn Scott discussed potential issues with the board on Monday at its regular meeting.

“We want school open,” he said. “There are probably going to be concessions made, but we’d like to make it as normal as possible.”

Scott has been meeting with organizations across the state, including the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association (NRCSA), to talk about several issues that will need to be addressed.

There are aspects of transportation, food service and personnel to consider. What happens if a staff member or student contracts the virus? How many students can be on a bus? How will parents react if there is a resurgence in the fall as health officials predict? What about substitute teachers?

Without direction available from the state at this time, Scott said, committees in the state organizations have been discussing options in three categories: being in school as normal, being in school with modifications, or going to online learning.

“We want to have those things written out,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of little things to consider.”

Board member Chris Wahlmeier said he would prefer to have students back in the classroom to return to normal as much as possible.

He acknowledged that could be a challenge considering how much things have changed in the three months since outbreaks began in the United States. It will be more than two more months before students will return to school.

“There’s going to be a lot of things happening,” he said.

Scott said upcoming changes in health recommendations may require the board to act on changes needed for the fall. He hopes to have information from the state to bring to the board at its July meeting, but said a special meeting may be needed if the timing is such that the board would need to take action after that date.

High School Principal Dave Barrett said school officials will need to have plans for students being in the classroom, but a backup plan for online in case there is an outbreak.

“The sooner, the better, so they know what it’s going to look like,” Barrett said.

He believes the state should allow for variance between individual communities. Trying to make one size fit all could have a negative impact for some school districts.

“Every community is different,” Barrett said. “What works for us may not work for Hastings High or OPS (Omaha Public Schools).”

The board also thanked Barrett for his years of service to the district during the meeting.

“It’s been great having you here,” board President Dave Johnson said. “The way you put kids in front of everything is obvious. The school will miss you.”

Barrett, who is retiring this summer, said that Adams Central was a great school district when he started and his job was to maintain that level of excellence while finding ways to improve.

“I hope that is something that will continue,” he said.

Council approves application process for temporary outdoor dining licenses

Restaurants in Hastings now can apply for temporary outdoor dining licenses.

Members of the Hastings City Council voted 8-0 at their regular meeting Monday to approve the temporary outdoor dining application process.

“I think this will provide people the opportunity to provide more volume for their restaurants, which would help drive their revenues,” Mayor Corey Stutte said. “We feel like this is a good first step moving this forward.”

He said the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission released new information Friday afternoon about the possibility of expanding alcohol sales outside of the four walls of an establishment. All the commission is requiring is a simple filing showing the extended area.

The outdoor dining licenses, which are approved by city staff, are good for 30 days, but are renewable.

Stutte thanked city staff and other community members, including Michele Bever, who is executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, for their work on the application process.

It was representatives of the Downtown Center Association and other concerned business owners who brought the outdoor dining option to the city about a month ago.

Stutte emphasized that although downtown establishments drove the public desire for expanded outdoor dining, any restaurant in Hastings is eligible to apply.

“This is one of those opportunities, where as long as people are staying 6 feet apart, they are able to entertain people outside of their four walls,” he said.

While council members unanimously approved the application process, they did express reservations.

“I just don’t want it to be a way of moving alcohol and food outside to allow people to smoke while they are doing that,” Councilman Butch Eley said.

He and Councilwoman Ginny Skutnik also each expressed worries about congestion on sidewalks, creating accessibility issues for individuals in wheelchairs.

City Attorney Clink Schukei said sidewalks would be usable, outside of the dining areas.

Councilman Paul Hamelink said outdoor dining is widely done across America right now and has helped a lot of restaurants.

He said directed health measures still apply even though the dining is outside.

“We have a lot of restaurants that are outside of our downtown area that may not need this, necessarily, but it still has become available to them,” Hamelink said. “If you’re a high-density restaurant you can be at half capacity. It’s very restrictive, particularly with the social distancing rules about how the dining room may be set up. I think this will be a great help.”