Surge in cases prompts LPS to require colleges’ student teachers to get tested regularly

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A surge in COVID-19 cases at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln prompted Lincoln Public Schools to temporarily pull student teachers and college students doing practicums from the classroom until they can show they’re virus-free.

After discussions with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, LPS officials decided to ask all college students who are student teaching or doing practicums in schools to get tested over the past week.

Though they’d started the school year at LPS, they weren’t in classes last week while they got tested.

“With some of the numbers we are seeing in college and university settings we started having conversations about, ‘Do we need to think about some extra precautions,’ since that’s a lot of people coming in our buildings,” said Eric Weber, LPS associate superintendent of human resources.

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This semester, LPS has 188 student teachers from area colleges and universities at schools across the district. Another 498 college students are doing practicums in classrooms.

Student teachers are upper-level students who must spend a semester student teaching before they graduate and spend every day in the classroom. Practicum students come to classrooms a couple of times a week and range from freshmen to upper-level students.

Weber said about half the lower-level practicum students will do observations this year by video, rather than in person, but upper-level practicum students will still come to the classroom.

A week ago, LPS notified the college students that they had to be tested over the past week and give the results to their college placement officers, who then will let LPS officials know if they are cleared to come back to classrooms, Weber said.

They were supposed to have their test results turned in by Friday and — assuming they don’t have COVID-19 — will come back to schools Monday, Weber said. Going forward, they must be tested every two weeks.

“It’s another safety precaution we worked with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department on to make sure when people are coming into the buildings, they’re safe,” he said.

Positive cases surged in Lincoln in recent weeks, much of which Health Department officials attributed to returning college students. As of Thursday, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported 545 positive cases.

Student teachers and practicum students come from UNL but also from other area colleges like Doane and Nebraska Wesleyan.

LPS has significantly limited who can come into school buildings beyond educators and students. TeamMate mentors are the only volunteers now allowed in schools, Weber said.

District officials did not test LPS teachers before they returned to school, Weber said, because mandatory testing of employees is not something typically seen in K-12 settings.

“It’s a little different when it’s an outside entity coming in to access buildings,” he said. “You have a little more ability to put some parameters around that.”

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LPS also doesn’t take all students’ temperatures prior to coming to school, instead asking parents to prescreen their students for symptoms. They do random temperature checks, however.

The volume of students made daily temperature checks logistically difficult, Weber said, and doing so wouldn’t catch all positive cases since many people are asymptomatic.

On Friday, LPS had reported 64 positive cases in schools. On Wednesday, 54 staff members were self-quarantining or self-isolating.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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