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Washoe County middle, high schools to switch to distance learning

The Washoe County School District will switch to full-time distance learning for middle and high schools Dec. 2.

The school board voted 5-1 on the change during a 10-hour meeting that began Tuesday and continued into early Wednesday at Hug High School in Reno. The decision came during a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases.

Elementary schools will continue with full-time, in-person classes.

Jan. 4 is the tentative return date for in-person classes at middle and high schools, but the board will finalize plans during a Dec. 8 meeting.

Board President Malena Raymond was in tears before voting.

“It is awful the decisions that we’re having to make tonight,” she said.

The board decided three Reno schools with specialized programs — Picollo School, Turning Point and Washoe Inspire Academy — will continue attending full-time, in-person classes. So will students in self-contained, special education classrooms districtwide.

Trustees decided not to make any changes to the spring break schedule.

Difficult decision

The Washoe school district covers the Reno area and has about 62,000 students and 8,000 employees. It has been operating with full-time, in-person classes for elementary schoolers and a hybrid model for middle and high schoolers. About one-third of students had opted for full-time distance learning.

The board’s decision was a partial departure from Superintendent Kristen McNeill’s recommendation of shifting to full-time distance learning beginning Dec. 7, with an anticipated return to in-person and hybrid models Jan. 19.

She cited factors such as the lack of additional COVID-19 contract tracing and testing capacity, as well as a staffing shortage.

In a Friday briefing with reporters, McNeill called it a “gut-wrenching” recommendation and school board decision.

“I know that our students are better off in person in our schools,” she said.

Case counts

The school district has reported 169 cases among students and 117 among employees since March, impacting 83 schools. The health district since then has also temporarily excluded at least 1,718 students and employees from school after they came into close contact with a confirmed case.

In total, 10 schools are currently operating under full-time distance learning, either to allow for more time for contact tracing or because of staffing shortages.

The Clark County School District has operated under distance education since school began in late August, a format that will continue for the rest of this semester.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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