The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees is preparing for summer school, registering children for kindergarten, looking to hire people for several types of positions and trying to counteract misinformation about vaccines and mask policies—all while dealing with misinformation from one of its own members.
The school district recently announced that students aged 9 and younger no longer have to wear masks in their classrooms or outside. All students must still wear masks on school buses, and district staff must wear masks on school property.
Superintendent Kristen McNeill said she understands there is confusion and frustration surrounding this new rule, especially in classrooms where there are students who are 9 and others who are 10. She said the decision was in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other guidance and was not arbitrarily made by the district.
There have also been concerns and misinformation spread about COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
The school district is not mandating COVID-19 vaccination for students. McNeill stressed that mandating vaccination—as is currently the case for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Chickenpox—is not a decision the school board would make anyway. That’s decided at the state level.
While battling the spread of misinformation, the school district is also gearing up for historically robust summer school programming to help students whose learning has been negatively affected by a loss of learning time during the pandemic.
It’s also registering new kindergarteners. So far, more than 2,000 kids have been signed up. They’ll be part of the graduating class of 2034.
Amid all of this, information, which other trustees and school district employees call inaccurate and false, continues to be perpetuated by Trustee Jeff Church. Church on his website, watchdogjeff.com, invites people to “Take Back Our Schools: Come out & speak up!” at the next school board meeting on May 25.
“Our children are being indoctrinated! with racist, false, and historically-distorted curriculum that is anti-white, anti-law enforcement and anti-American,” the main page on the site reads.
He also accuses the district of “white shaming” and teaching “revisionist anti-American history,” and rails against school board policy concerning the health and safety needs of transgender and gender non-conforming students.
People giving public comment at school board meetings have repeatedly claimed that Church is being silenced and muzzled by McNeill and school board President Angie Taylor.
Some of these commenters, who’ve also railed against COVID-19 mitigation measures like mask mandates and curricula surrounding race and social justice, have been showing up to school board meetings for months. In April, the trustees met virtually rather than in person because of disruptive public commenters flouting COVID-19 mandates.
There is now a website called SaveWCSD.com that repeats the allegations on Church’s site. Its listed contact is Bev Stenehjem, who has defended Church.
A petition circulating online for the past month calling for the resignation of Church from the school board has nearly 700 signatures.
This Is Reno asked the school district to comment on the contents on Church’s website. The district chose not to respond to the allegations of indoctrination, white shaming and pushing socialist agendas—choosing instead to only speak to a cancelled agenda item during which the board was to take into consideration new, supplemental social justice resources that may be added to English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade students.
“We look forward to having a robust conversation on this matter in June after the Board has had adequate time to review the supplementary materials to the ELA curriculum. We hope that all Trustees will approach this with an open mind and a focus on what’s best for all of our 62,000 students,” the district said in a quote attributed to Taylor.
The supplemental curriculum resources, which are expected to be discussed at a board meeting in June, are only a part of the reason Church and some public commenters have accused the district of being “anti-white.”
Editor’s Note: Bev Stenehjem wrote food and drink columns for This Is Reno in 2020.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.