Gering schools to reveal restart plans July 29

Gering Public Schools interim Superintendent Gary Cooper during a Board of Education meeting on July 20, 2020. Cooper's time as superintendent officially began July 1. 

Gering Public Schools will release their plans to restart during a virtual community forum Wednesday, July 29, according to school officials.

The district announced its intentions to announce their reopen plans during a Board of Education meeting Monday, July 20.

“We’ve taken a very cautious approach on putting out information that we may not be able to follow through with,” Gering’s interim superintendent Gary Cooper told the district’s Board of Education.

He added that the district’s plan is “about 95% completed” but district officials wanted to wait until the end of July to release plans because they assumed health officials could predict fall virus conditions best by that point.

The virtual community forum is set for 6:30 p.m. and can be accessed through the district’s website, according to district officials.

“We’ll have a question and answer session, I expect it to be quite long,” Cooper said.

The board will meet Tuesday, July 28, to pass a resolution declaring their intent to reopen on Aug. 14.

Gering’s announcement comes as schools across the country release plans to restart in the fall. Some are choosing to mandate masks, some will offer an online option, some will do both and some have decided to keep class online.

It’s unclear what combination of options Gering Public Schools will choose. However, Cooper did tell the board that every building in the district will have a school nurse, and that GPS now has a registered nurse on staff.

The issue of Gering’s timetable – and lack of a plan – came to a head during the public meeting when two parents with elementary-aged students asked district officials when a restart plan would be available.

“We really have enjoyed being a part of the Northfield (Elementary School) family,” John Berge told the board during public comment. “And we are full of anxiety about the way that we’ll operate in the coming weeks.”

Hedging from Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt on the issue of masks was one of Berge’s concerns, he said. He asked the board to consider requiring masks in their plans.

Masks and face coverings are one of the most effective methods of ending virus spread, according to the CDC. Despite this, mask mandates have inspired a backlash in other states. Nebraska is one of just seven states without at least a partial mandate requiring masks.

Berge said that in lieu of a mask mandate at GPS, he asked that the district provide a virtual alternative, something Scottsbluff Public Schools plans to do in the fall.

If neither of those policies comes to fruition, Berge said he and his wife, Kerri Schnase-Berge, plan to homeschool.

“I ask that you take into consideration that I’ve never wanted to homeschool,” Schnase-Berge said. “I’m very aware that teachers possess a skill set that I just don’t have.”

Board President B.J. Peters responded to the parents first.

He said the restart decision had consumed the board and the administration. Other members of the board echoed that sentiment, saying that the changing nature of virus conditions have stalled their planning.

After the meeting, the parents told the Courier that they’d hold off on deciding whether to keep their two students in school until the virtual community forum.

While both parents said they appreciated the board’s comments, they emphasized that they wanted to see a plan.

“July 29 is a relatively late date in the academic calendar when you’re looking at a start date of Aug. 14,” Berge said.

The parents qualified their concerns with empathy for the position the board was in. They said they appreciated the number of variables and mixed messages that the board receives, but they wanted to see a plan.

“We’re as interested in getting our kids back into the classroom as anyone else, we just want them to be safe,” Berge said.

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