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HPS school board to act on recommendation to discontinue e-learning
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When the Hastings Board of Education meets on Monday, members will determine whether to continue e-learning at large for the district during the second semester.

Superintendent Jeff Schneider recommended discontinuing the e-learning option for the second semester, except for students with medical conditions.

“If we have a documented medical condition by a physician that says it’s not safe to be at school, we’re going to accommodate that student,” he told board members during their work session on Thursday. “By and large we believe it is best for our students to be back in school, in person.”

The school board meets 7:30 p.m. Monday in the City Building, 220 N. Hastings Ave.

Prior to making that recommendation, Schneider consulted with district physician Dr. Curtis Reimer and Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department.

There are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, Schneider said, but many students are falling behind while doing e-learning.

“We’re not seeing tremendous results in student performance,” he said. “We have some students that are doing really well. Unfortunately, at our high school at the quarter break about two-thirds of students are behind where they need to be and some of them are significantly behind.”

Schneider said according to feedback from teachers, about 50% of middle school students are behind and 40% of elementary students are struggling with e-learning.

“I think we’ve proven with our protocols it’s a safe place for kids,” he said of school buildings with classes in session. “I would argue for some kids it’s safer to be in school than to not be at school.”

Many e-learning students need interventions in math and reading.

“It’s basically impossible to do that in an e-learning setting,” Schneider said. “In a school day, when the student’s with us all day, we can carve out time in their schedules to provide those interventions. We are not able to do that in an e-learning environment.”

Arguments to continue offering e-learning include that, with increasing numbers of cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the community, families have a choice to do what they feel is safest for their children.

Also, with e-learning an option, some classrooms in the schools are less crowded than they would be otherwise, which helps with social distancing for the students already attending classes in person.

The adults who make e-learning happen for the school district have improved it each week and continue to work extremely hard on it, the superintendent said.

“So it’s a much better product now than it was in August, and I want to commend them,” Schneider said. “We have some students who have shown great progress in e-learning.”

On the subject of classroom numbers, he said that while some rooms in the schools are less crowded with the e-learning option in place, that isn’t the case in all cases.

There are some classes with larger enrollments because when teachers were assigned to e-learning, schools that were intended to have three sections of a class may just have two. That means those two remaining classes have higher enrollments than desired.

The district does have alternative plans in the event of disease outbreaks.

Schneider said the first step would be a 50-50 approach with half the students physically in school each day to reduce the crowding in the schools.

The district could close one school temporarily if there was an outbreak at that particular building and keep other buildings operating as normal.

“Finally, if things get bad enough we could go 100% remote if we had to do that,” he said.

Discontinuing e-learning would require a big staff shuffle, especially at the elementary level.

“That’s one of the reasons why we’re asking you to act in November, because we need time to contact families to figure out who we’re going to have in the second semester,” he said.

Accommodations will continue for staff with health concerns.

For instance, Schneider mentioned a reading teacher at the middle school who has been teaching in-person classes remotely, with a teacher’s aide working with students in the classroom.

“That’s worked well, so we won’t change that,” he said.

Schneider said bringing students back into the classroom would be like working with students moving into the district who are behind.

He said in talking with other districts that didn’t offer e-learning, fewer than 1% of students participated in in-person classes due to medical conditions.

“I would guess that would be ours,” he said.

One option for students without a medical condition, but who still didn’t feel safe enough to return to the classroom, would be to go through homeschooling through the Nebraska Department of Education.

“If they did that for partial time and then decided it was safe and wanted to re-enroll, of course we would work with them,” Schneider said.

Also during the meeting, board members voted 8-0 to not hold classes on Nov. 13. Schneider said the Nebraska Department of Education allowed voting on the item during a work session because it involves scheduling.

Schneider said it is a day for staff to work on teaching plans.

Presidential election exposes America's 'perilous' divides
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NEW YORK — Presidential elections can be revealing moments that convey the wishes of the American people to the next wave of elected officials. So far, the big reveal in the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is the extent of the cavernous divide between Republican and Democratic America, one that defines the nation, no matter which candidate ultimately wins.

Voters from both parties turned out in droves to pick the next president, but as they did so, they found little agreement about what that president should do. Democrats and Republicans prioritized different issues, lived in different communities and even voted on different kinds of ballots.

Whoever emerges as the winner, that division ensures that the next president will face significant gridlock in Congress, skepticism about the integrity of the vote and an agitated electorate increasingly divided by race, education and geography. Even the vote count itself threatens to further split Americans.

Two days after polls closed, neither Trump nor Biden has earned the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Republican incumbent is encouraging his supporters to protest outside counting locations still sorting through mail ballots — the method of voting preferred by many Democrats — while pursuing an aggressive legal strategy that could lead to further delays.

“Except for the Civil War, I don’t think we’ve lived through any time as perilous as this in terms of the divisions,” said historian Barbara Perry, the director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

Even after the 2000 election, when the Supreme Court ultimately intervened on Republican George W. Bush’s behalf, Democrat Al Gore quickly conceded and congressional leaders found areas of agreement on Capitol Hill.

“To come out of something like this, you need to have a leader who can lead and willing followers,” Perry said. “I just don’t see willing followers on either side.”

The yawning divides will threaten the next president’s ability to manage multiple crises: Daily coronavirus infections set a record this week, the economy is struggling to recover from the pandemic and many Americans are pressing for a reckoning on racial injustices.

Trump and Biden voters, however, express strikingly different views on those challenges, according to AP VoteCast, a broad survey of the electorate. Biden voters overwhelming say they want the federal government to prioritize limiting the spread of the virus, even if that means further damage to the economy. But most Trump voters preferred an approach that focused on the economy.

About half of Trump voters also called the economy and jobs the top issue facing the nation, while only 1 in 10 Biden voters named it most important.

On race and justice issues, Biden voters almost universally said racism is a serious problem in U.S. society and in policing. But only a slim majority of Trump voters, who are overwhelming white, called racism a serious problem.

Biden has tried to bridge this gap, often appealing to a sense of national unity and the “soul” of America. Trump often casts himself as a defender of his voters. He has threatened to withhold pandemic-related aid from states run by Democratic governors and disparaged cities run by Democrats.

Many Democrats desperately hoped that Trump would suffer an embarrassing and broad defeat that would serve as a clear repudiation of Trump and his brand of politics. At the very least, they wanted an unambiguous mandate that would allow Biden to pursue ambitious policies on health care, education and the economy.

Trump may lose, but strong GOP turnout in battlegrounds and unexpectedly solid victories for Republican candidates in Senate and House races made Tuesday far from a thumping.

“There’s certainly not a clarion call to go in one direction or another. There’s a lot of confusion and chaos,” said civil rights leader Martin Luther King III, who supported Biden.

The election solidified the parties’ competing coalitions. Biden relied on urban and suburban voters, particularly women, college-educated voters and people of color. Trump exceeded his turnout numbers from 2016 by relying on thousands of new supporters from rural, GOP pockets of white voters across the country.

Results in high-turnout counties underscore that trend: Republican-leaning places became more Republican and Democratic areas more Democratic.

The Democratic margin increased in 70% of the counties that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the Republican margin widened in 56% of counties that Trump won that year, according to an Associated Press analysis of all counties that by Thursday evening had tallied more votes than in the last presidential election.

That dynamic toppled some Democrats who had won seats in politically mixed areas by running as moderates. In Iowa, for example, Democrat Rep. Abby Finkenauer lost her reelection bid in the eastern part of the state as Trump bolstered his margins in rural areas such as Buchanan County just west of Dubuque. Trump won the rural county, which is 96% white, by 15 percentage points in 2016. That jumped to 21 percentage points this year.

That geographic polarization is part of what worries those who see the culture of cooperation in Washington rapidly eroding.

Former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, a leading Republican voice in the days after the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election, said it’s unclear whether congressional leaders will have an incentive to work with the other party.

“There were people in the Senate like Ted Kennedy and Ted Stevens who held strong views but were there first and foremost to get things done and govern, so they did not fear their base and were willing to compromise,” said Gregg, who has emerged as a Trump critic. “I am not sure that type of leadership is there today because of the strident voices that dominate both parties. But Biden, if president, has seen how it can be done, so we can hope.”

Nebraska 'headed in the wrong direction' with virus cases
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OMAHA — Gov. Pete Ricketts implored residents Thursday to follow Nebraska’s voluntary coronavirus safety guidelines as the number of new cases and hospitalizations surged, and he hinted that the state could reimpose some of the social distancing mandates that were lifted in September.

His comments came as the state’s top public health official warned that Nebraska needed to reduce the number of cases to avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“It’s obvious we’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer. “We cannot surge our way out of this pandemic by just finding ways to increase hospital beds or staffing.”

Nebraska reported a record 1,828 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and the number of daily hospitalizations soared to an all-time high of 698 on the same day, following a week of massive growth.

Nebraska officials have confirmed 75,888 cases and 669 deaths since the pandemic began. According to the state’s online tracking portal, 26% of the state’s hospital beds are available for patients, as are 28% of the intensive care unit beds and 71% of the ventilators.

Ricketts announced several policy changes to try to keep the virus from spreading and avoid the kind of economic damage the pandemic caused earlier this year.

He said state agencies will get renewed flexibility to allow their employees to work from home, and Nebraska will apply for extra federal food stamp benefits for the month of December. Nebraska was previously the only state that chose not to continue the emergency food assistance that it was receiving from the federal government.

The Republican governor re-imposed some coronavirus restrictions last month to try to protect the state’s hospitals from the rising number of cases. On Thursday, he said he was still waiting to see the full impact of those measures, but he warned that more could be coming if people flout the state’s voluntary guidelines.

“One of the ways we can avoid tightening down the (restrictions) more is if people follow the rules,” he said.

Ricketts also stressed the need for social distancing on Thanksgiving and urged residents to plan accordingly.

“We want people to be thinking about that holiday” and possibly celebrating in smaller groups, he said.

He stood firm, however, in his decision to not require schools to shut down or limit themselves to virtual learning. Ricketts said it was important for students to meet in-person because it’s better for their mental health and academic performance, and in some cases it’s the only chance for students to socialize with others or get a full meal.

“We believe the structured environment of the school is the better place to be,” he said.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said he was also worried that closing schools would lead to informal gatherings that help spread the virus. Last month, more than 40 students in Gretna tested positive to the virus after attending a non-school-sanctioned homecoming party.

“Folks can’t let their guard down, and I think that’s one of my concerns right now,” Blomstedt said.

Four more Adams County residents lose battle with COVID-19
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Four more residents of the South Heartland Health District have succumbed to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the district health department announced Monday night.

The additional deaths bring to 23 the total number of fatalities among residents of the four-county district attributed to the viral infection.

All four additional victims were Adams County residents, and all had been hospitalized. They included a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions, two men in their 80s, and one woman in her 90s.

“We are saddened to report additional deaths of South Heartland residents to COVID-19,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director, in a news release.

All four victims previously had been reported as positive cases in health district statistics. The health department doesn’t announce a death as being attributed to COVID-19 until the cause of that death has been confirmed on the death certificate.

The health department also reported 140 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They include 97 in Adams County, 23 in Clay County, 14 in Nuckolls County and six in Webster County.

Those new cases bring the county-by-county totals to date to 1,127 in Adams County, 257 in Clay, 168 in Nuckolls and 143 in Webster, for a districtwide running tally of 1,695.

Since Sunday, the health district has recorded 187 new cases of COVID-19, for an average of 37 new cases per day. That number extrapolates to 83 cases per 100,000 population for the first five days of this week.

COVID-19 cases began to be confirmed in the health district in mid-March. Since then, a total of 75 district residents have spent time in a hospital for treatment of the disease.

According to the district’s dashboard of COVID-19 statistics, at least 725 of the patients are classified as having recovered from the illness. Since that number hasn’t been updated since Oct. 16, it is possible that the number of recoveries may be considerably larger by now.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by infection with the novel coronavirus. Those who test positive for the virus may show no symptoms at all, or mild to moderate symptoms, or they may become seriously ill. Senior adults and individuals with underlying health problems are among those most at risk of serious illness.

Bever continues to promote “the three Cs” for helping to thwart the further spread of the virus in the South Heartland area and beyond.

“Avoid Crowded Places, Avoid Close Contact, and Avoid Confined Spaces. It is up to each of us to protect others and ourselves everywhere we go, in everything we do,” she said.

In other COVID-19 news from Tribland, the Two Rivers Public Health Department recorded a total of 12 new cases of the disease in Kearney County, nine new cases in Franklin County and two new cases in Harlan County for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

For more South Heartland statistics visit the health department website, www.southheartland.org. Two Rivers statistics may be found at www.trphd.org.