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Washoe County students will greet new school year with masks on


The Washoe County School District (WCSD) Board of Trustees had not begun its discussion yesterday of whether children would need to wear masks during the coming year when the point became moot.

The school board was finishing up several hours of discussion on its meeting agenda items, which are traditionally voted on in bulk, and protesters with anti-masking signs were gathered on the lawn outside district’s offices. Then Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the return of masks to 12 of Nevada’s 17 counties, including Washoe.

The decision is in line with Directive 045, issued in May, which says Nevada will automatically adopt the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masks. The guidance may change prior to the Aug. 9 start of school, but students will need to be masked up for at least the first day of classes. If CDC guidance changes, the board could decide to revisit mask policies at a future meeting.

Superintendent Kristen McNeill intended to present a plan that would have made masking an option for students in kindergarten through third grade. Following the governor’s announcement, however, she said masking would be mandatory for everyone on school grounds.

Neil Rombardo, chief legal counsel for the Washoe County School District. Image: WCSD.

“You never want to fight with the people who regulate you,” said Neil Rombardo, the district’s chief legal counsel, following a brief debate among the trustees concerning what might happen should they choose not to follow the state directive.

New Trustee Beth Smith expressed frustration with the new mandate, calling it a blanket action.

“At some point we are going to have to make an uncomfortable decision and make masks a choice,” she said.

Students won’t have to wear masks when they’re outdoors on school grounds, and the board will—for now—keep its standing COVID-19 agenda item on the agenda for all of its regular meetings. The next board meeting is Aug. 10.

Pay raises for subs approved

In addition to the newest mask mandate, the board discussed accepting new Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III) money from the American Recovery Plan and raises for substitute teachers.

The school district will receive a little more than $77 million in ESSER III funds. It will have until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend the money.

The board also approved a pay raise for substitute teachers. Subs will now make $100 per day instead of $90. Long-term subs who teach more than 121 days will make $130 a day instead of $106. The new rates are in line with other districts in the state such as Carson City and Lyon and Churchill counties.

The district is facing staff shortages across most of its departments, including for teachers and subs. District officials have said attracting substitute teachers and making them feel welcome and wanted has been a challenge. 

That’s a part of the reason the district now refers to them as “guest teachers” rather than subs, said Chief Human Resources Officer Emily Ellison.

During a brief public comment period at the end of the meeting, trustees heard from people angered by the mask mandates.

A regular public commenter said he understood why the board would choose to follow the orders of the governor, whom he called a tyrant.

“See, I understand why y’all went along with that Directive 047,” he said. “It has to do with money. Well, you have every reason to be afraid because he has clearly demonstrated that he is a bully and a thug—and he will take revenge on this body if they don’t follow his directives.”

Jeri Chadwell
Jeri Chadwellhttp://thisisreno.com
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.