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School district continues to grapple with pandemic challenges


The Board of Trustees and administration at Washoe County School District (WCSD) continue to work at overcoming challenges set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those efforts were the focus of a briefing Friday morning by Superintendent Kristen McNeill and board President Angela Taylor.

Staffing shortages continue at the district, particularly in the areas of housekeeping, nutrition services, classroom aides and transportation.

Transportation is the most critical, McNeill said, adding that the district will pay for employees to get their commercial driver’s licenses required to drive buses. The school district will have representatives at a job fair set for Tuesday at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. People who are interested in becoming bus drivers can call 775-325-8326.

New rules surrounding COVID-19 exclusions for students 

WCSD has implemented new rules for student exclusions developed in conjunction with the Washoe County Health District. The school district sent out messages to families concerning the protocols. 

A Washoe County School District student gives a thumbs up after sharing public comment at the September Board of Trustees meeting. Image: Eric Marks

The goal of the new exclusion policy is to reduce the number of students being excluded and relies, in part, on proper masking.

If students wear face masks properly to cover their noses and mouths, the masks are effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Masks should meet Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recommendations in terms of quality. 

If a student properly wears a mask in school and is greater than three feet but less than six feet from another student who tests positive for COVID-19, who also properly wears a mask during the contact period, the student will not have to be excluded from school if they are asymptomatic.

Additionally, face mask use is not a determining factor for an exclusion for close contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19 if the individuals were in closer proximity than three feet to the infected person.

The use of masks in determining exclusions only applies to students, not adults. If a teacher has been exposed to a COVID-19 positive student, they will be excluded.

The change went into effect on Sept. 7. District officials say it cannot be retroactively applied to exclusions that occurred prior to that date.

McNeill acknowledged that implementing the new exclusion rules for students will be difficult and time consuming. She is scheduled to help with those efforts at one of the district’s middle schools sometime in the coming weeks. Taylor asked families to show some patience with the district as it implements new rules following updated guidance from the CDC and health district. 

Vaccine requirements for employees could be considered

President Biden’s recently released, six-pronged recovery plan calls for governors to require vaccinations for teachers and school staff but stops short of a federal mandate.

Nine states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have vaccination requirements for K-12 school staff, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Gov. Steve Sisolak has yet to issue any such mandate, but school district officials plan to discuss the matter at a future meeting of the board.

The Clark County School District (CCSD) recently issued a vaccine mandate for its employees. The CCSD superintendent said she has since received death threats.

CCSD Superintendent Linda Cavazos first posted about the threats Tuesday on Twitter. She said she received messages saying she should be shot or hanged, “along with very disturbing images.”

Board of Trustees meeting previewed

At its meeting next week, the WCSD school board will hear a staff presentation concerning one of its recovery goals set in response to the pandemic.

The presentation will focus on the district’s goal to “continuously improve operational systems that are effective, efficient, transparent and accountable.” These operational systems include transportation, facilities management, nutrition services and information technology. 

Also on the agenda is a discussion surrounding redistricting following the release of the results of the 2020 Census. Taylor said individual trustees’ district boundaries may change in light of Nevada’s 15% growth over the past decade. WCSD includes five contiguous districts with as equal population as possible, as well as two at-large districts. The public will have time for input before any redistricting is done. 

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.