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The shortage of special education teachers within the Omaha Public School system came to a head last Friday, the 8th, as State Senators in the education committee questioned three OPS officials about the situation. This issue resurfaced just before the new OPS year started and OPS informed about 140 parents of special education students that their north Omaha schools would not have a special education teacher. The parents would have to find a different school if they wanted special education learning for their children or opt out of the special education program. Bussing to and from this new school would be provided by OPS, the parents were promised, and this also recently became an issue because some students not receiving the promised bussing.
OPS official Charles Wakefield said, “I don’t think there’s an easy answer,” concerning the staffing of special education staffers. This has been an issue for years with OPS and as the Omaha World Herald stated, it’s gotten worse since the pandemic. What was more troubling is that there were not any solutions offered and this was evident as several times Senators seemed to be frustrated at the answers they were given. At one point, north Omaha Senator Justin Wayne, seemingly exasperated asked, “What are we doing?” There was only silence from the OPS officials.
Other Senators were confused by conflicting numbers concerning the teacher shortage and the lack of responsiveness and transparency. At one point Senator Danielle Conrad of Lincoln asked, “Why can’t you return an email?” Senator Wayne pointed out that OPS had a surplus emergency fund of over 150 million dollars which could be used. Senator Conrad asked, “Is this an emergency” and Spencer Head, the President of the Omaha School Board, said, “Yep.” Senator Murman from Glenvil, the Chairman of the Education Committee, intimated that their solution of moving special education students to different schools didn’t seem like the best most well thought out solution.
Kelsey Escobar testified about the bussing problem her special needs son had at the first week of school. OPS has told her that they would provide bussing to and from the new school her son was having to go to now since her school did not have a special education teacher for him. They picked him up in the morning but several times they didn’t pick him up after school and she wasn’t notified till 4:30-5:00 o’clock, an hour or so after school was out. This situation upset her son and Escobar said, “It was very stressful for me.” She said that the bussing issue has since been fixed but, “I always have my phone next to me just in case the school tells me, ‘Hey, the bus is not coming today.”
It is apparent that OPS has serious issues concerning shortages of teachers and bus drivers. These are not new issues for OPS, yet there doesn’t seem to be urgency in fixing these issues, they continue year after year. There also seems to be confusion and a lack of transparency in how these issues are being addressed by OPS. The Legislature has provided many incentives for hiring new teachers and even more for special education teachers but it is apparent that more must be done so staffing issues like we see at OPS can be fixed and our most vulnerable children provided the best education possible.
About 100 years ago a leading progressive made this comment about what they believed the goal of a university education should be, their response, “to make a son as unlike their fathers as possible.” This idea has not been confined to higher learning however. This, thankfully, has not been the belief of the vast majority of teachers and administrators in the history of Nebraska education either, and it is crucial that we make sure to guard against this pernicious idea. In Nebraska, we value the role of parents in the education of their children, every step of the way.
On July 31st I held a hearing at the Capitol to get a better picture of the direction of public education in Nebraska in order to make sure we continue to have an education system aligned with the values of Nebraska parents. There were presenters at the hearing representing many different policy approaches. Many of my constituents and others across Nebraska have raised concerns over some things they notice changing in Nebraska schools. With that in mind we began some interim studies relating especially to how we can best advance parental, teacher and students’ rights in our ever-changing society.
We must ensure transparency for parents, concerning their children’s curriculum, in this new, digital age. It was 1994 when the last parental rights statute was passed and much has changed since that day. Critical Race Theory (CRT), has been passed down to our schools from higher levels of academia. It sees reality through the prism of race and even in Nebraska there are reports of students made to feel ashamed of their race/ethnicity, for things they have not done. This is one way CRT (often changed to Culturally Relevant Teaching, since Critical Race Theory has negative connotations), is filtered down to our children. Parents must be able to access curriculum in a timely matter, and/or visit a classroom, so they can see if things like this are being taught in their school. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” CRT is a direct, biased attack on Dr. King’s quote.
While a critical lens has exposed many of the biases of CRT, we have a lot of evidence that some folks are channeling the ideas of CRT into Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) practices. SEL, as originally imagined, may be a useful tool for our teachers and administrators. We must make sure it stays a useful tool if it is continued to be used in our public schools.
Recently it has been found that some curriculum is even teaching our impressionable children to “Question Objective Reality” and “let their teacher’s instructions guide them” and “to question their own (the children) internal beliefs and associations.” Most of us probably see that this is wrong and even destructive and it brings us back to where we started, with the early 20th century progressive educator who wanted to “make a son as unlike their father as possible.”
In Nebraska we value education and it is reflected in national studies which show us among the top third of states in education generally. Our model does not seek to diminish the parental role in education but to advance and enhance it. We must be diligent to protect parents’ rights which will protect students and teachers as well.
We have a good public education system in Nebraska: it is usually one of the top twenty systems in the nation, yet there is always room for improvement. It would be great if we could once again be a top 5 school system in the nation, and that is what we must strive to achieve.
One thing we’ve done in the last session is give classroom control back to the teacher. Legislative Bill 705 was passed and one of its provisions allows teachers who’ve been properly trained to remove disruptive children. Classrooms in some districts were becoming difficult places for education to flourish as Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) techniques were being used by teachers instead of other, more effective ways, to deal with disruptive students. Even more, what is called SEL today isn’t just to help student/classroom behavior, and emotional well-being. We believe that racial/gender/comprehensive sex education propaganda (CRT) is being shoe horned into SEL. There are videos of administrators suggesting this. Public school students have been badgered and shamed for their race for no reason. This is wrong.
We ARE NOT systematically racist in this nation and that is obvious and our children should not be told otherwise. Yes, there are still instances of racism, all around and in every ethnic community, but it is not systematic. Our schools have always taught about our nation’s sins of the past yet it was done acknowledging that we are and have been a great, yet flawed nation. This is not how some modern curriculum presents our history. As an example, while those with a CRT mindset continue to impugn our nation there are millions of African slaves on the African continent to this day. All you can hear is crickets when you ask them about this modern atrocity. We can and have learned from the sins of our past and we will not white-wash our history, but we will not do this in a condemnatory way. We will continue to learn from our past sins and still teach our students that our country has been built on liberty.
Children’s confusion concerning their gender is not something our schools should be invested in as Comprehensive Sex Education is not a part of our education standards in Nebraska. Our children need to be taught the basics. Even as Nebraska scores well nationally in overall education, our nation continues to plummet internationally as other nations do not get bogged down in CRT type propaganda. Our education system should not be sowing gender confusion on our impressionable children.
The continued misinformation about the Opportunity Scholarship Act is unfortunate. No money for public schools has been cut or will be cut. The money allocated for this scholarship is through tax credits. This money is never a part of our state education funding and the last session increased education spending over 300 million dollars with a new 1-billion-dollar fund created for future needs. The future of public education in Nebraska is financially stable.
What is truly a step forward is that now Nebraska is not behind every other state except one when it comes to educational liberty and opportunity! This scholarship allows parents and children to choose a school best suited to their needs. This includes schools that can help children with special needs. This happens today when special needs children are able to go to a school which is able to best deal with their issue. Now this will be available to far more children whose parents would not normally be able to pay for private schooling. This will greatly help many minority families. Educational liberty should not be a controversial idea, Nebraska has been in the dark ages for far too long when it comes to academic freedom. Now our parents and students can proclaim with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “We are free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
We do need to do our best to make sure our children do not have easy access to pornography. Many Americans have fallen into a lifelong addiction to porn just through finding some readily available porn as a young child and this can scar their relationships for life. Interestingly, when parents read some of the porn provided in the schools at school board meetings, they are told to stop because of its lascivious nature, yet nothing is done about the accessibility of the book to the children. Only the ears of the school board are protected, not our children. We are still studying what some common-sense answers would be to this issue. We can all agree that if something is objectionable to a school board it is probably objectionable to a young student and their parents.
In summary, we must strive to make our schools even better and we can best do that through: providing educational/academic liberty, keeping American ideals central, and teaching our children the fundamentals, free from leftist indoctrination. The voices of the past want to sow shame and confusion and keep parents on the outside. I have confidence in the vast majority of parents and their teachers and I want to make sure our schools are simply places emphasize ABC’s/1,2,3’s of education.
Every parent and child in Nebraska should have the right to pick a school they believe best suits their unique situation. The Opportunity Scholarships Act passed this last session in the Legislature provides this much needed choice for Nebraska’s children. This is long overdue in Nebraska as 48 states provide this choice for their parents and children.
Yet just as Nebraska is progressing forward with the times, a well-funded, out of state petition group has organized paid petitioners to seek the repeal of this bill and send us backwards. They claim that this bill will drain revenue from public education even as this session approved 305 million dollars in extra funding for our public schools. A one-billion-dollar Education Future Fund was also created in order to deal with any future funding issues. You can clearly see that the Legislature carefully planned for public education funding and increased it!
In Nebraska we love our public schools and our schools, teachers and students are always on the honor roll when academic performance is considered. We can continue this great tradition AND move forward, allowing parents and the children to seek the education they believe is best tailored to them. In a liberty loving nation like the United States this should not be controversial. By declining to sign you will affirm the progress that Nebraska is making in our children’s education.
However, even as the vast majority of our schools and school districts perform at a high level, sometimes our children can fall between the cracks or a school or school district can under perform. The Opportunity Scholarships Act allows parents and the children the choice to find another school; public or private. Priority is given to low-income families and this scholarship will cover all or most of their tuition at the school of their choice and allow them the academic freedom which should be assumed in this nation.
The petition drive is a solution looking for a problem. The Opportunity Scholarship Act is the solution parents and children have been seeking concerning freedom in K-12 education. So, this is what was done in the last Legislative Session, 1) Nebraska was brought up to date in education by implementing a foundational American concept, academic choice and freedom for parents and children and, 2) school funding was increased for the foreseeable future. For these reasons we respectfully ask you to, “Decline to sign”!
The inaugural episode of the “Across the Aisle” podcast from the National Conference of State Legislatures chronicles the bipartisan makeup of the team I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with in 2021.
Are you a Nebraska college student interested in becoming a page for the Nebraska Legislature for the 2023 Legislative session? Details from the Clerk of the Legislature’s office are at the following link:
The deadline to apply is 5:00 PM on Friday, October 7th. Please have reference requests to my office by Wednesday, October 5th.
For reference consideration, please submit a letter of request to my office at:
Senator Dave Murman
PO Box 94604
Lincoln NE 68509-4604
From the office of Governor Pete Ricketts:
LINCOLN – Wednesday morning, Governor Pete Ricketts hosted a press conference at the State Capitol to raise awareness of the new 988 phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. After two years of planning and preparation, the new three-digit suicide prevention line—988—will go live on Saturday, July 16. Callers will be able to use 988 around the clock to make a direct connection to trained crisis counselors. All calls are free and confidential.
“The new 988 phone number provides a 24/7 connection to trained, compassionate counselors for anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide,” said Gov. Ricketts. “It’s imperative that we look after the mental well-being of our loved ones and provide immediate help to those who need it. The State has been proactive in ensuring that Nebraskans have access to mental health resources. As we launch 988, we’re also adding capacity to mental health facilities and investing in the education of additional behavioral healthcare providers.”
In 2020, Congress designated the new 988 dialing code to operate through the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the lead federal agency, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Veterans Affairs and Vibrant Health.
The Lifeline, 988, is an easy-to-remember number that provides direct access to compassionate care and support for anyone experiencing mental health-related distress or thoughts of suicide. 988 will provide easier access to the Lifeline network and related crisis resources, which are distinct from 911 (where the focus is on dispatching Emergency Medical Services, fire, and police as needed). Callers to 911 talk with a person who answers the phone. With 988, the caller experience will be different. Lifeline centers utilize the Vibrant Emotional Health Lifeline technology, which means callers to 988 will hear some automated prompts before hearing a counselor’s voice.
Moving to 988 does not mean the existing suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255) will go away. After July 16, 2022, both it and 988 will get callers to the same services.
“We know that it can be hard to start conversations about mental health, but they are very important conversations and could save a life,” said Sheri Dawson, Behavioral Health Director for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “It is never too early to talk about mental health, and we don’t want the conversation to be too late. Use your eyes, ears, heart, and mind to reach out and offer help if someone is suicidal. If you’re unsure if someone is thinking of ending his/her life, ask, or now you can say, ‘let’s call 988 and talk to someone.’ People can also dial 988 if they are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.”
Director Dawson thanked the State’s partners who planned tirelessly for the implementation of 988 and play an active role in behavioral healthcare across Nebraska.
“I want to thank the amazing Nebraskans who collaborated in planning for 988 implementations,” she said. “We are all grateful to those partners who provide behavioral health and 24/7 crisis services every day to individuals with behavioral health challenges. I want to thank our Regions, providers, and behavioral health system partners for their continued partnership in serving Nebraskans. We asked for 988 stakeholder recommendations and we listened to stakeholder feedback, our 988 workgroups, and 988 Advisory Committee. Nebraska is fortunate to have such dedicated partners.”
Need to talk or get immediate help in a crisis? Help is available. If you or a loved one need assistance, please reach out to:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 para Español
As of July 16, 2022, simply dial 988
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Hotline: In Nebraska, dial 211
Your faith-based leader, your healthcare professional, or student health center on campus
Nebraska Family Helpline – Any question, any time: (888) 866-8660
Rural Response Hotline: (800) 464-0258
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (oprime dos para Español) or text TalkWithUs to 66746
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453)
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Governor Ricketts signed into law Senator Murman’s LB 1261 on Tuesday, April 19th. LB 1261 expands the Nebraska Advantage Rural Development Act. The goal of this bill is to promote investment in Nebraska agriculture through livestock modernization and expansion. Part of this bill was Senator Joni Albrecht’s LB 596. This creates the Nebraska Higher Blend Tax Credit Act (allowing for higher ethanol blends in gasoline).
Over 40,000 acres. At this writing, that is the amount of pasture and cropland that has burned in Gosper and Furnas counties, as well as just south of the border in northern Kansas. At least eight families have lost their homes. Dozens of other structures were also destroyed. Firefighting equipment was lost as well. In addition to this are all of the livestock, the center pivots and other irrigation equipment, the hay bales, and the miles of fence line. All destroyed by a merciless and deadly force.
On the frontlines of the battle with this force are the 40 fire departments from across the state that are fighting the Road 739 Fire near Elwood, and the 15 departments, including four departments from District 38, who helped fight the Burr Oak, KS fire. Most of these departments are staffed solely by volunteers. These men and women do their work in these departments in addition to the full-time jobs they already have.
Most of the time, these firefighters, EMT’s and paramedics go home to their loved ones at the end of the day. Sadly though, there have been casualties in the Road 739 Fire. Chief Darren Krull of the Elwood Volunteer Fire Department was killed in a head on collision with a water truck on April 8th. Seriously injured was Phelps County Emergency Manager Justin Norris. Roadway conditions at the time of the crash were at zero-visibility because of the fire. Thankfully, the driver of the water truck was not injured. Words of comfort never seem to be enough in these instances, but my staff and I are praying for these families.
This gives us the opportunity to remember and thank all of the unsung heroes in our daily lives. They often risk their lives for us, whether it be a car accident, farm accident, medical crisis or other emergency. The tragic loss of Chief Krull exemplifies the selfless service that makes our state great.
Not all of us can be a firefighter or emergency medical volunteer, but we all owe a debt of gratitude to many others. The volunteers who clean the snow off the church sidewalk and make sure the grass is mowed. The linemen who are out in all kinds of weather to assure that we can turn the lights on. The ladies who bake cookies for the local blood drive. All those who organize, pick up, clean, stock, beautify and improve our lives; a good portion of them behind the scenes and under the radar.
Please take the opportunity today to thank the daily heroes you come in contact with, both paid and volunteer. Tip a little more to your server or paper carrier today. Put your cart in the cart corral. Go out of your way to thank a worker who has been on the front lines during the pandemic. ATTEND and SUPPORT the pancake feeds, pork barbecues and other fundraisers hosted by your local volunteer fire departments and first responders.
I welcome any comments, questions, or ideas you may have on this or any other issue. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 402-471-2732.
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