Washoe County School District Superintendent Kristen McNeill started her weekly Friday morning meeting with the news media by congratulating former Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval on his appointment as president of the University of Nevada, Reno.
She also welcomed Melody Rose for her appointment as the new chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
McNeill spoke about the school district’s new COVID-19 dashboard, which can be found on its website.
“On the dashboard, you’re going to be able to find information on community-wide data, on active COVID-19 cases—as well as school-based information, importantly,” she said. “This information will be updated three times a week so the community and our media partners can access accurate information about our schools’ active COVID-19 cases.”
The dashboard does not report cumulative COVID-19 data. The county and state dashboards include such totals.
Asked about contract tracing, McNeill said the Washoe County Health District’s contact tracing for students is robust and the district has hired two nurses to help with contact tracing.
McNeill said the school district has not received any feedback to indicate that there has been a spreading event in any schools. The Health District has reported an uptick in cases, which she said she thinks most people were anticipating following the Labor Day weekend.
McNeill also spoke about the influenza season. She said that since flu and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, the district will be continuing to work with the Health District in determining “which symptoms are which.”
Impacts of distance learning
The school district was again on full distance learning today, as it has been for several days this week because of wildfire smoke.
“So far this year, we’ve had eight days of distance learning—including today,” McNeill said, noting that the district had anticipated poor air quality and has been trying to give families as much notice as possible ahead of distance learning days.
The district is hiring a distance learning director, McNeill said, to help “focus those efforts around distance learning.”
This comes as teachers, students and parents have struggled with the technology used by the district—which spurred a group of students to begin a petition to change distance learning policies. Last week, the district had a two-hour town hall with students to hear about the concerns.
“I know one of our principals, where the petition was started, is meeting with the students to talk about the concerns, as far as what they’re experiencing,” McNeill said. “We know we’ve heard about workload, homework load. A lot of our students also support their families with work and jobs—so to be cognizant of that and how a distance learning environment can be different.”
Some people have questioned whether the school district loses any money on full distance learning days. This is not the case. The district’s distributive school account is funded by the number of students enrolled. This number has dropped from about 64,000 to 62,000, costing the district approximately $12.6 million. McNeill has stated during several media briefings that the school district has seen much lower kindergarten enrollment numbers than in past years.
Others have questioned if the school district will have to extend the school year because of the number of distance learning days it has called for due to smoke. It will not. Only days upon which the district is shut down result in the need to use contingency days—which are tacked on to the end of the school year. Thus far this year, the district has only had to schedule for one contingency day.
Anti-racism resolution forthcoming
McNeill told reporters the district is working on an anti-racist resolution that should be discussed by its Board of Trustees in October. The district faced criticism for barring its employees for supporting Black Lives Matter. It said such support constitutes political activity.
“During the last couple of months, as you all know, communities across the nation—including our own—have worked to bring to the front of focus around social injustices that impact our communities of color,” she said. “As a learning community, as a school district, we continue to engage in these conversations and discussions around equity and access in our schools and making sure that we continually listen to our community.”
The goal of the resolution, McNeill said, is to influence change in practices and remove barriers that affect students and families. The district’s equity and diversity task force includes staff, community members and students.