Breaking news: Clark County students will not return to classrooms at beginning of school year

The Reno Gazette Journal is covering all angles of the process to reopen Washoe County schools, UNR and TMCC amid the coronavirus pandemic.This story is also part of the Reno Gazette Journal’s essential back-to -school COVID-19 coverage. Please consider subscribing to the RGJ to support our work.  

The Clark County School District Board voted unanimously to go to a full online learning plan for the start of the school year, and students will not return to classrooms until the number of COVID-19 cases have dropped significantly.. 

The vote came after a heated meeting where trustees said the district hadn’t provided enough information about things such as teacher contracts and how many students did not have access to the internet or computer devices. 

The district said 75 percent of Clark County teachers have indicated they were not willing to return to in-person teaching. 

The motion included allowing teachers to work in a hybrid model at home and at school sites.

“I will not sign off on the possibility that one person could lose their life,” said Trustee Linda Young during the meeting.   

Other discussions included how the district would deal with teachers who don’t have childcare and what options would be available to families who need childcare.

Clark County also referenced the same meeting Washoe County did about a meeting with health district officials and the Nevada Department of Education on Wednesday.  

WCSD and health district to meet Wednesday

Tuesday 3:48 p.m.

Washoe County School District Superintendent Kristen McNeill said she has a meeting with the Washoe County Health District in advance of opening schools next month.

She said she is also forwarding questions and concerns from staff about reopening to health officials tonight.

“I am looking forward to a collaborative, important discussion with the Washoe County Health District,” McNeill said at the end of Tuesday’s school board meeting. 

On Monday, union leaders for teachers, principals and support staff said they had serious concerns about schools opening on Aug. 17. They want clear plans for what happens if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19 and have asked the district to do distance learning for every student for at least the first nine weeks of school.

School Board Vice President Angie Taylor addressed the letter sent by union heads. She said because it was not an agenda item, the board could not address it at Tuesday’s meeting.

But she said the district set a July 28 board meeting where the concerns about opening of schools would be discussed. 

WCSD moves forward with new attendance policy

3:10 p.m. Tuesday

The Washoe County School District moved forward with changing its attendance policy at its meeting Tuesday. The district is removing the previous policy that said a student could fail a class or be held back if 10 percent more of school or a class was missed. 

The change moves forward and will be voted on by the board after a 13-day public review period. The district said it is working about what attendance looks like in a hybrid or a full distance learning model. 

The new policy eliminates language on attendance, but the district said a student who does not do work would still fail a course or possibly not move on to the next grade. 

Grading would be based on doing work and showing proficiency in a course. 

The district said after COVID-19 the attendance policy would likely be reviewed again.  

“Going forward whenever that timeline may be to more normal times, it would likely be a revisit,” said Deputy Superintendent Debra Biersdorff. 

WCSD sees cuts to gifted and talented programs, school safety and Read by Grade 3

2:30 p. m. Tuesday

The total estimated impact from the special Nevada Legislative session to the Washoe County School District is 71 full-time positions and $15.5 million in reduced grant funds.  The district said the 71 positions that were eliminated would be reassigned to other open positions and the district did not anticipate layoffs. 

Cuts out of the legislative session include all of the funding for Read by Grade 3 and teacher supply reimbursements.   Also cut was about 60 percent of funding for gifted and talented programs or about $1.2 million in funding for the district. 

Watch WCSD board meeting live at 2 p.m. 

Tuesday 1 p.m. 

The Reno Gazette Journal will cover the Washoe County school District Board meeting live and provide updates. The meeting starts at 2 p.m. and a live feed of the meeting will be posted on RGJ.com.

While unions representing district teachers, principals and support staff have publicly opposed a return to in-person teaching for at least the first 9 weeks of school, the district is unlikely to address that at today’s meeting, other than to possibly say it could be discussed at a later meeting.

WCSD Trustees meet via Zoom on April 14, 2020

Today’s meeting will include a possible move forward to change the district’s attendance policy that says a student who misses 10 percent of school or class could be held back of flunk a class.  The change comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the district’s push for students who are sick to stay home. 

The district is also expected to discuss what impacts came out of the Legislature’s special session. The session ended on Sunday after 10 days of budget cuts. 

Check back to RGJ.com for live coverage. 

WCSD responds to letter from unions

Tuesday 11:30 a.m. 

After unions representing Washoe County School District teachers, principals and support staff opposed the district’s plan to open schools next month, the district responded by saying it is committed to working in partnership with everyone. 

In a statement released Tuesday the district said, “As we continue to confront the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Dr. McNeill has reached out to all of the employee associations to ask for their questions and concerns before she and District staff meet with the Washoe County Health District this week.”

“Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of everything we do as we carry out our mission of providing a world-class education to our students. “

The statement did not mention if online distance learning was an option or if it was something the district and board will consider. 

Full statement:  

The Washoe County School District is committed to working in partnership with students, families, employees, and the community, and a key part of that commitment is our ability as a District to listen and learn.

As we continue to confront the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Superintendent Dr. McNeill has reached out to all of the employee associations to ask for their questions and concerns before she and District staff meet with the Washoe County Health District this week. We appreciate the thoughtful and constructive comments regarding the reopening of schools that have been provided by the leadership of the Washoe Education Association (WEA), Washoe School Principals Association (WSPA), and Washoe Education Support Professionals (WESP). The employee associations join with many other groups and families who have taken the time to express their concerns, and we are grateful for the input we have received.

Members of the Board of Trustees consider carefully the thoughts expressed in public comments, as they are a crucial part of how they consider issues and make decisions that affect the lives of our 64,000 students and more than 8,000 staff members.

The Board of Trustees and Superintendent Dr. McNeill are taking all of these comments seriously, and we are grateful for the feedback we’ve received from virtually every corner of the District. We understand that there are many questions yet to be answered, and are working closely with the Washoe County Health District, the Nevada Department of Education, and Gov. Sisolak’s office to learn more about the challenges currently facing our community and to make the best decisions possible going forward.

Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of everything we do as we carry out our mission of providing a world-class education to our students. While our current situation presents challenges we have never encountered before, our commitment to protecting the health and well-being of our students, families, and staff will never waver.

Empty classroom with no students

Washoe, Clark oppose opening plans

Tuesday 10:30 a.m. The two largest school districts in Nevada are facing pressure to delay in-person education.

Both the Washoe Education Association, which represents more than 2,500 district teachers and the Clark County Education Association have publicly said they are against plans to do in-person and hybrid education models.

In Washoe, the unions representing teachers, principals and support staff have asked for a nine week delay to in-person instruction amid concerns surrounding COVID-19. 

Letters signed by the presidents of unions representing district employees were sent to their districts and school boards.

In Clark County, trustees are expected to vote tonight on doing distance learning. Trustees in Clark have spoken in favor of a distance education plan. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. 

The Washoe County School Board will meet today at 2 p.m. but school opening plans are not on the agenda.

The board is expected to talk about budget issues following the special session and about changing the district’s attendance policy. 

The district and state have already approved plans for Washoe students to return to buildings starting on Aug. 17. Elementary students will have a traditional Monday-Friday school week and middle and high schoolers will rotate every other day between in person instruction and distance learning.

The Reno Gazette Journal has reached out to Superintendent Kristen McNeill for comment on the letter opposing the plan to return to classes and if she and the board plan to reconsider plans to open schools next month.

The letter sent Monday was signed by the presidents of unions representing teachers, principals and support staff. 

To read the letter: WCSD teachers, principals oppose reopen plan, want all distance learning for first 9 weeks

The RGJ will carry today’s school meeting live online. 

Monday headlines

Manogue  to require health form to be submitted daily 

A child wears a face mask and shield as a precaution against the new coronavirus at a community health center in Tangerang, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Monday, 3:50 p.m. 

Bishop Manogue Catholic High School is planning for a hybrid fall semester rotating students between attending three days a week with two days at home. 

It is similar to Washoe County School District’s plan to rotate high school students between in class and distance learning every other day.

But while public schools in the county will require masks of all students, Manogue goes a step beyond by requiring students and staff to wear a mask and a face shield.  

When not in class, students will only be required to wear a mask. 

In a letter to parents, Manogue Principal Brianne Thoreson said the school is planning for all three possibilities for the fall semester including a full distance learning planning or a full return to campus. 

But it’s the hybrid plan that is likely under the state’s current mandates to reduce occupancy by 50 percent.

Under the plan, which must be approved the school’s board and the Catholic Diocese, the school said it will require parents to electronically submit a health form including verifying a student’s temperature every day. 

Students will alternate schedule by last name with students in an “A” and “B” week schedule, learning at school three days a week and at home two days a week. 

The private school said it purchased microphones and webcams and teachers will be teaching students at school and at home simultaneously. 

WCSD attendance policy to get revamp 

Monday 2:40 p.m. 

The Washoe County School District is looking to quickly change its attendance policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new proposed policy, the district won’t hold anyone back or fail a student because of attendance. The district said it will also create attendance guidelines for distance learners. 

The specific language district wants to get rid of is: 

“…a student shall not be absent from school 10 percent or more of school days to be promoted to the next grade or 10 percent or more of class periods for a student to earn credit in a class.”

The tougher policy that said a student could fail a grade or a class was instituted last year as the district fought a chronic absenteeism problem facing one in five students. 

In 2017-18, more than 12,000 students out of the district’s 64,000 missed a month or more of school. 

Of the districts thousands of students who were chronically absent, 60 percent missed between 17 and 27 days of school. 

The school board will first consider  changing the policy at its meeting Tuesday. After a 13-day public review of the policy, it will come back to the board for a final vote.  

The school board meeting starts at 2 p.m. Tuesday and will be livestreamed at RGJ.com

Siobhan McAndrew tells stories about the people of Northern Nevada and covers education in Washoe County. Read her journalism right here. Consider supporting her work by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal