Omaha, NE (WOWT) — Sparks flew during public comment at the Omaha Public Schools board meeting Monday evening, while it was the first in-person meeting since schools closed from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The board heard reaction to the proposed “Family 3/2 plan” two weeks ago. Those tuned in to the public comment mostly spoke against the OPS plan.
From Black Lives Matter to masks to reopening schools, Monday’s public comment covered the spectrum from controversial to inspired.
The meeting paused almost as soon as it began. The first speaker up caused wide-eyed looks across the room.
“I don’t think they’ve gotten the education they were supposed to have gotten. They are obviously operating on some pretty far-fetched ideas about slavery, about our history,” said Omaha resident Larry Store.
As students held up fists in support of the Black Lives Matter movement — a parent at the back held up a hand in what appeared to be a Nazi salute. She was swiftly removed.
A second woman was removed for not wearing a mask and refusing to leave the podium.
Another stormed out after board members asked the crowd not to clap following public comments.
Overall, public comment focused on mask-wearing, the Family 3/2 plan, and racial equality in schools.
“It’s a strange world where a person has to beg the board of education and their fellow citizens not to kill their family but here I am, and I’m begging. Please, please don’t put children and teachers and other school staff of our city in any more danger than they already are,” said Annika Ellefson.
Some want to keep schools closed, others demanded opening it five days a week.
“We have already seen pop up paid programs to supplement on the OPS off days which in my opinion will only continue to widen the gap that exists between those with means and those without,” said Gina Miller.
This was just one small part of the conversation. In a socially distanced room where masks were required, there were plenty of parents ready to speak out against a mask mandate even if their children do not attend Omaha public schools.
“We all know this mask isn’t doing anything for me right now, it’s not filtering anything out but in order for me to speak today, in order for me to enter the building — I was told I had to wear the mask,” said Reagan Simons.
The Black Lives Matter movement was also at the forefront of tonight’s conversation.
OPS was also the target of a demonstration over the weekend: A group of current former students gathered outside Central High School to call for a change in strategy for dealing with school safety as well an emphasis in black in history in the curriculum.
The students say that they cannot have a successful education until their schools reflect the community they see in Omaha.
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