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School district: Masks off, questions remain

By ThisIsReno
Published: Last Updated on

By Carly Sauvageau

The Washoe County School District is preparing for a potential COVID-19 outbreak. This comes as COVID-19 cases begin to decline and Nevada’s mask mandate has been lifted.

WCSD’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday heard from district officials on the need for a plan should COVID-19 surge within the community again.

Paul LaMarca, the WCSD Chief Strategies Officer, said that as of Tuesday, Washoe County is in the “high” range for COVID transmission but cases are dropping weekly. Washoe County Health District’s (WCHD) Kevin Dick confirmed as much Wednesday during his weekly media briefing.

While it seems the pandemic could be easing into a new normal, WCHD under Emergency Directive 052 has said that each county school district will adopt a COVID-19 mitigation plan, a regular COVID-19 testing program and a method for detecting a school-wide outbreak. 

WCSD and WCHD have been meeting to create a plan that will be submitted to the WCSD Board of Trustees for approval on March 8 to send to the Nevada Department of Education.

As the WCSD has lifted the mask mandate in schools, Jeff Church expressed concern for immuno-compromised students and staff.

WCSD Trustee Jeff Church during the Jan. 25, 2022 Board of Trustees meeting. Church said he doesn’t believe masks work against COVID-19, but wants to ensure immunocompromised students and staff are accommodated. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

“My personal view, I would like to see no mask mandate to the maximum degree legally possible,” Church said. “That said, I do want to be sensitive to the emails I’ve received, if you have at-risk kids…how do we accommodate that since they are now going to be in a mask-free environment?”

Except for a student or staff that has tested positive for COVID-19 or in the chance of an outbreak, masks are optional. 

LaMarca encouraged people to wear masks and said people shouldn’t feel like they shouldn’t wear a mask just because the majority of people weren’t wearing them. 

Church, who said he believes masks are ineffective, inquired about distance learning for those who are immunocompromised. 

LaMarca said that distance learning was an option on a case-by-case basis.

“I can appreciate that point,” Superintendent Kristen McNeill said. “I would just offer that I think we need to be really careful about providing safe, free and appropriate education by law. I think that has to be something that we can work out with the family and the parents have input on what that would look like for their learner.”

Spring sports

Spring athletes who compete in high-contact sports outside Washoe county, or those visiting places that require COVID-19 testing, such as a group of students that just performed at the Pioneer Center, will still need to be tested for COVID-19. 

If three people on a team test positive for COVID-19, it could prevent their team from practicing together. These policies could change after the COVID-19 implementation plan is discussed on March 8. 

The Bryan Group has spent the last month researching Washoe County and looking at potential candidates to replace McNeill, who is retiring this year.. 

Trustee Angie Taylor expressed concern that the surveys sent out to the public had low participation rates. The Bryan Group did say that the feedback and focus groups were small, but the information they received is valuable so they weren’t concerned. 

The consultant has so far received 18 applications for the superintendent position, as well as 16 partial applications. Those who submitted full applications were from Nevada, Arizona, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Florida, Washington and New Jersey. 

The applicants are a mix of traditional and non-traditional candidates. Bryan Group representatives said they are  happy with the 18 full applicants, but they are still recruiting and are accepting applications a week longer than they had initially planned.

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