Unlike cities, rural Nevada schools plan classroom lessons

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In Goldfield, a historic small mining town between Las Vegas and Reno, students and teachers are relatively unfazed by the idea of reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Surrounding Esmeralda County has reported no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and schools Superintendent M. Neil Terhune called the challenge of reopening "relatively minor."

His district has less than 80 students and, due to lack of enrollment, students trek to Tonopah in neighboring Nye County once they reach high school.

Unlike school districts in Las Vegas and Reno, Terhune said, Esmeralda County plans to resume in-person instruction at schools when students return in August.

"God is in the details, however," he said.

The district followed Nevada Department of Education directives and closed schools in March. Like in the state's urban school districts, plans call for students to eat in their classrooms and socially distance on buses.

But similarities end there.

The Clark County School District has more than 320,000 Las Vegas-area students attending more than 350 schools. The Esmeralda County district oversees only three elementary schools.

In Clark County, classrooms can have up to 36 students. In Esmeralda County, class sizes top out at around 12 or 13 students. In Silver Peak, a tiny town halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, the district's elementary school has six students, Terhune said.

Superintendent Jesus Jara in Las Vegas is proposing having students receive in-person teaching two days a week and online instruction the remaining three.

Washoe County school officials are considering spread-out seating plans for buses in and around Reno, and spacing student desks far apart from each other.

As they put together reopening plans to submit 20 days before students return, rural Nevada superintendents like Terhune are monitoring health official policies to contain the coronavirus. Like superintendents in Las Vegas and Reno, they're worrying about budget cuts and fielding concerns from parents.

If schools don't resume in Battle Mountain or Austin, Lander County Superintendent Russel Klein said limited daycare facilities in the remote region between Reno and Elko will make it difficult for parents to work.

Klein is applying for federal funds to make sure all students have reliable internet connections to access curriculums from home. But not everyone wants it.

"The truth is in a rural area there are some who live remotely by design. They live off-grid because they want to live off-grid. They don't want Wi-Fi," Klein said.

Since Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak put plans on hold to reopen more Nevada businesses and implemented a statewide face-covering mandate, school districts have been forced to rework reopening plans not knowing what statewide guidelines could be in the fall.

"It is very time-consuming to pull something together that may or may not be used in August and takes pulling many pieces together," Churchill County schools Superintendent Summer Stephens said.

Stephens said she's fielded support and opposition to the idea of having students wear masks, and that because of her district's rural character, parents are worried about bus capacity limits.

"One of our greatest challenges in our planning is transportation and the ramifications of limited number of students allowed on the buses," she said.

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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