By Kayla Anderson
At its last Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting, WCSD elected officials voted to allow secondary/middle and high school students to return to a hybrid learning model beginning January 19. Following its recent approval, WCSD Superintendent Dr. Kristen McNeill said in a January 15 media briefing, “Students are anxious to get back into the buildings; we know there will be challenges with the hybrid model and will continue to work to get those systems worked out.”
While the WCSD cannot go back to a full in-person learning system since it is still operating under Governor Steve Sisolak’s executive order for social distancing guidelines, secondary and high school students returned to school on a part in-person and part distance learning model.
Regarding educators and school district employees now open to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. McNeill said that since its rollout more than 2,300 district employees have been offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine. Most of its Tier 1 group including school police, nurses, and clinical aides were inoculated on Saturday, January 9 and so the District moved ahead with vaccinating its Tier 2 group which includes employees that work with vulnerable populations and remote schools. The second half of its Tier 2 group was scheduled to be vaccinated on Monday, January 18.
The District’s Human Resources department sent out a survey to its 8,000 employees to help administrators establish the order in which school district staff got vaccinated, considering CDC aspects, seniority, and other personal risk factors such as whether the employee works directly with students or in multiple locations. Dr. McNeill says that the District is also in the process of developing its own vaccination PODs (points-of-dispensing) in addition to the Health Center’s efforts at the Reno Livestock Events Center to help get employees vaccinated quickly and hopefully relieve some of the burden on the health district. Local fire departments are also helping the WCSD distribute the vaccine and it will start launching employee vaccination events as soon as January 23.
The WCSD has also launched antigen testing for its employees and plans on hosting antigen testing events twice a month at Hugh High School in Reno.
As of January 15, there were 28 active COVID-19 cases within the school district and four elementary schools transitioned to full distance learning.
However, Dr. McNeill is optimistic that the District has more resources in place to be able to reopen schools and continue education more seamlessly for the secondary and high school students going into the spring semester.
“When students were placed on distance learning, we looked at three areas of resources: testing, contact tracing, and guest teachers,” Dr. McNeill stated in the January 15 media briefing. Thanking the various volunteer organizations who’ve stepped up to help the District in tough times, Dr. McNeill also shared that they’ve received 143 applications for substitute teaching positions and approved 60 of them so far. The District is also actively recruiting for bus drivers and school custodian staff.
Since January 13, more than 23,000 students were enrolled in regular in-person classes; 18,000 students were on a distance learning/hybrid model; and almost 20,000 students are enrolled in a full distance learning plan.
“There really wasn’t a holiday break for a lot of people in the leadership team putting these resources together, as well as the county and the health district,” Dr. McNeill says about how school administration is preparing for welcoming students back to school.