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Washoe County School District Avoids Setting A COVID-19 Threshold For School Closures

A student is sitting in a desk facing the front of a classroom and is holding a pencil down on a piece of paper.
Flickr Creative Commons
Classrooms, like the one depicted above, allowed students to sit in close proximity prior to the pandemic. Now, students attending in-person learning sit at distanced desks in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Lee en español.

For weeks, community members have been asking the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees to set a threshold that would use specific metrics to determine if and when the district would stop in-person instruction during the pandemic. Some trustees said in a meeting Tuesday they do not want to draw a hard line.

Dozens of Washoe County School District teachers took turns speaking at Sparks High School during public comment demanding change, some in tears and others steaming in frustration.

Calen Evans, an educator and president of Empower Nevada Teachers, a grassroots advocacy group, spoke directly to the superintendent.

“In your email last week, Dr. McNeil, you stated, ‘we have always worked to do more with less. This is something we have done for years.’ That portion of your email sums up perfectly the biggest issue we are facing: the fact that we are always asking educators to do more with less,” said Evans.

Many teachers spoke about the hardships of managing over 80-100 students in their online classes on top of their in-person students, recognizing that some schools don’t have proper ventilation and voicing concerns about teacher shortages.

Trustee Katy Simon Holland took a moment to acknowledge the extra work teachers and counseling staff are putting in.

“We know this is not optimal by any way, shape or form. We know that we have people who are teaching a subject that they’re not even very familiar with and that is hard on everybody. We do know that it's painful, we do see it, we do feel it, and there really aren't solutions. The people just aren’t out there,” explained Simon Holland.

Currently, the trustees will continue to monitor school closures on a site-by-site basis. A school will close if it becomes challenged with a staffing shortage or if it experiences a COVID-19 outbreak.

They will also begin monitoring the Truckee Meadows COVID-19 Threat Meter, which is intended to help identify the threat of the virus in and around the community by studying five metrics and using color-coordinated cues that are easy to understand, like the color red being used to illustrate high risk.

The trustees say they will monitor the threat meter at each board meeting with data collected up to seven days at a time. Depending on the findings, the trustees would discuss a possible change in the learning model.

“I think it's become clear as a community and as a nation, this is new for all of us, and it is very natural ... that perceptions would change and should. We are learning new information about this disease every day. So it would be foolish of me to not accept all of that information and help it to guide me in my decision making,” said School Board Trustee President Malena Raymond.

Along with discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on staff and students, the meeting also addressed the recent resignation of Trustee Scott Kelley. Late last month, Raymond demanded that Kelley resign from his position after allegations surrounding Kelley’s divorce became public. The board will select a new board member at their September 22 meeting.

Stephanie Serrano (she/her/ella) is an award-winning multimedia bilingual journalist based in Reno, Nevada. Her reporting is powered by character-driven stories and is rooted in sound-rich audio. Her storytelling works to share the experiences of unserved communities in regards to education, race, affordable housing and sports.
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