WCSD releases plan for bringing students back to class in the fall

WCSD Attendance Officer Adriana Partida posts a notification from the district on the front door of a home in Sparks on May 22, 2020. The district is actively reaching out to families with children who have not had contact with their teachers since the schools shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washoe County School District has proposed that elementary school students return to classrooms full time in August, while middle and high school students will rotate between classroom and distance learning during the week.

Half of a middle and high school’s students would be in school at one time, alternating between the classroom and online learning every other day.

The information was released just before  5 p.m. Thursday on the district’s Tuesday school board agenda. It is the first glimpse into a real plan amid months of discussion and committees about how the fall semester could look amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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The plans must be approved by the school board and by the state 20 days before the start of the fall semester in August. 

In March, Gov. Steve Sisolak shut down schools across the state. The Nevada Department of Education mandated that school districts come up with plans that include how they would roll out in-person learning, a hybrid learning model with students in school part-time and a full distance learning plan.

“Depending on the actual facility plans, it might look a little different at schools,” said Superintendent Kristen McNeill on Friday about how the district has split up plans by elementary, middle and high schools.   

This photo, provided by the Department of Education, illustrates how student desks will be configured next school year to promote social distancing during the pandemic. This classroom has a maximum capacity of nine - eight students and one teacher.

The district will have a full distance learning model for families who want that going into the fall semester. It has talked about growing the capacity of its online school to accommodate more students. 

“We have had so much public comment on both sides,” McNeill said. She said it has been both ends of the spectrum with families wanting to return in a traditional way and some who will not return amid the pandemic.

For middle and high school students, some full time in-person instruction five days a week would be available for students with medical, social and academic vulnerabilities.

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“It is very, very difficult and even more problematic not knowing what our budget is going to be,” McNeill said. She said the special session starting on March 8 may provide some clarity on what the district faces in terms of cuts.

Other highlights from the district’s proposal:

A later start to the school year to allow for five days of professional development. School would start on Aug. 17 for all grades except kindergarten, which would start on Aug. 24.

All students would wear masks, even those between the ages of 2-9 who were exempt under Sisolak’s mandate.

In the event of an outbreak, schools would immediately transition to a distance learning plan.

The district may be planning to use its fall break for instruction. The district said under bargaining agreements with teachers, the district only has to provide two-week vacation for winter break and one week during spring.

The district is considering extending the school day to accommodate adjusted schedules due to social distancing and hygiene requirements

District may implement staggered start times within grades to accommodate increased number of bus routes because of social distancing. 

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