Washoe County students may soon reunite with friends and teachers this fall after school closures were mandated in the spring to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The Washoe County School District approved plans for the reopening of schools. Those proposals now head to the Nevada Department of Education for final approval.
Nearly 1,600 locals tuned in to the nine-hour-long board meeting on Tuesday, during which more than 230 people submitted public comments. Trustee Katy Simon Holland said making the decision to reopen schools is one of the toughest choices she’s made in her 40 years of public service.
Superintendent Kristen McNeill emphasized the need to work together, calling on community partners and legislators for support in order to tackle the reopening plans.
“Voices need to be heard at the federal level as well, our state is not going to be able to do this lift without additional federal funding,” McNeill said.
The trustees have requested that elementary school students return to school full-time while practicing health guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing when safe.
As for middle and high schools, the trustees have adopted a hybrid model. The model will split students into two groups: an A group and a B group. The students will rotate between in-person classes and distance learning.
Vulnerable students like English language learners or students in foster family programs will have the opportunity to have full-time in-person sessions. On top of the recommended models by the board, parents and guardians will have the option to enroll students in full-time distance learning at the start of the school year.
Starting in the fall, teachers will have more control over lessons, and students will be learning new material. District leaders said that in case of an outbreak, the schools would be prepped to transition into full distance learning.
Adam Searcy, the chief facilities manager, said cleaning high-touch surfaces during in-person school hours will be enhanced and an effort by everyone. The district will provide cleaning solutions to teachers, so disinfecting is not simply the work of the school custodians.
“We do intend to implement scheduled supervised handwashing protocols into our daily routines at all of our schools. In addition to that, we will be introducing alcohol-based hand sanitizer into all of our schools, classrooms, hallways and common areas,” Searcy said.
The district is also looking to add wellness checks once or twice a day performed by teachers to educate students on COVID-19 symptoms. In order to comply with state orders, the trustees voted to enforce that students ages 10 and up, staff and visitors wear a facial mask while on Washoe County School District sites. Officials are recommending that students 9 and younger wear a mask as well. Superintendent Kristen McNeill said wearing a mask is a community responsibility.
“I would recommend that we do have face coverings available on our buses that we would be able to hand out,” McNeill said. “I just feel very strongly that this is something as the superintendent, and you all as the trustees, that we need to take that ownership off of our teachers and our principals and educate our community.”
The district is working to create an educational campaign about wearing masks and use general funding and money from the CARES Act to purchase the PPE.
Transportation may look a little different for certain schools. Buses will have up to 50% capacity, which will seat one student per seat, and in some cases, two students a seat. Bus stops that transport big groups of kids will have two pick up times scheduled in order to respect social distancing protocols.
As for breakfast, lunch and in some schools that already offer dinner, those meals will look a little different as well. The district has added four different models, one being a modified service cafe.
“This is really similar to what we currently do, utilizing our current equipment and our serving lines, but students would come through at staggered times. We would utilize markers ... to provide visual cues for social distancing, and the students would come through, take a unitized meal, and take it back to a designated area," said Lianka Soliz, the nutrition services director for the district.
Other ideas include mobile dining carts that would allow students to pick up food or classroom food delivery services. The plans will be sent to the Nevada System of Education for approval, and the district is accountable for informing students and families about reopening modifications made 20 days before the start of the semester.