Carson City school board votes to expand in-person learning to seventh, eighth graders

Carson City School Superintendent Richard Stokes.

Carson City School Superintendent Richard Stokes.

The Carson City School Board voted Tuesday to open school for in-person, on-campus instruction to seventh- and eighth-graders four days a week as of March 23.
The full transition of returning students to school to campus from the hybrid model Tuesdays through Fridays began in October with pre-kindergarteners to second-graders, then in January with third- to sixth-graders. Mondays will continue to serve as remote learning days for all students.
“Students and families currently enrolled in the full-remote model at any school will continue to have the option to remain in the full-remote model if they choose,” Superintendent Richard Stokes, superintendent for the Carson City School District, said in a statement from the district Wednesday. “Hybrid students not interested in attending four days per week may elect to transition to full-remote learning. Further adjustments to school operations may be made if additional restrictions are removed.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak’s educational changes announced in February included increases to school occupancy to 75 percent, or 250 people, along with increases to school bus capacity to 66 percent, all with social distancing and mask requirements. Directive 038 extended the the previous 3-foot social distancing requirement for pre-K through eighth grade students to all students in pre-K through 12th grade and maintained the adult 6-foot distance from other adults and students. Carson City School District has been abiding by the restrictions and will now invite its middle school students back to campus.
The challenge now is to modify facilities for Carson High School in such a way as to accommodate freshmen through seniors, Superintendent Richard Stokes reported Tuesday.
The campus has 176 classes that would have 25 or more students in classrooms if it were to combine cohorts, and district administrators and CHS Principal Bob Chambers have struggled with determining whether it might be worth augmenting 18 school days at the four-day-per-week schedule or 25 extra in-person school days rather than remaining with the hybrid option.
Stokes said classroom sizes would be unable to accommodate the required 3-foot spaces for desks for the varying sizes. More staffing or the purchase of additional prep periods, the time teachers typically use to prepare their lessons however they feel is most efficient, is needed to operate efficiently for the rest of the year, Stokes said.
The district also purchased certain teacher prep periods at the middle school level to increase class sections to ensure the seventh- and eighth-grade students could return to a four-day schedule. The additional sections at smaller sizes keep the district within the social distancing parameters without forcing the school to make major changes to the school’s operations or its scheduling. Stokes said Principal Lee Conley at Eagle Valley Middle School had at least eight teachers willing to sell their prep periods back to the district and agreed to take on another course to accommodate this plan. Administrators said this would cost between $18,000 to $20,000 to buy out staff prep periods for the remainder of the year at the middle school level.
Trustee Stacie Wilke-McCulloch worried this might be adding extra stress on the teachers who agreed to take on an extra load for this.
“We’re killing all of our staff, our custodians, our paraprofessionals,” she said. “Thank God for everyone coming up to the plate for doing that, to keep going and putting students’ needs first is amazing.”
She also noted she hoped there would be an opportunity to restore some of the extracurricular activities to the schools for normalcy.
Tuesday’s vote also signified that Carson High students would remain in their assigned cohorts for the rest of the 2020-21 year. But out of concern for students who are struggling academically, Stokes revealed CHS recently had invited about 200 students back who were not performing well in the hybrid model at the start of the second semester to keep them on track for graduation.
“It’s an interest of mine and everybody in the community that we’re looking at those seniors who are going to be credit deficient going into the final stages of the school year, and I’m confident the counselors and the staff are interested in the same thing,” Stokes told the board.
Trustee Don Carine was frustrated that Carson High couldn’t be reopened earlier due to circumstances to help students needing to get reengaged academically sooner. He acknowledged at this point it would be unrealistic to upset the charted course for the rest of the year now.
“I’m disappointed we can’t get the high school back,” Carine said. “I think everybody is. I realize it would be a disservice to take 500 students and change 500 schedules.”
Stokes added he was confident the counselors and staff have been taking action well before the students’ senior year to help them graduate on time, plus there is always a summer course option.
“Those who have so much to lose but also to gain will be contacted and we’ll be seeking some support for those families,” Stokes said. “If there’s something we can do, we don’t want to see those kids slipping through the cracks because of a crazy school year.”
Trustee Laurel Crossman also thanked Chambers for his efforts into determining how the school could keep its Career and Technical Education, Advanced Placement and JumpStart curriculum, which district spokesman Dan Davis confirmed this week was never sacrificed throughout the year. Elective classes including music and physical education also have been offered as well.
“Thank you, Mr. Chambers, for trying hard as you can,” Crossman said. “I hope our community realizes this is something we want, that our principal wants, but logistically isn’t able to fit into a building. We continue to offer all our CTE and AP electives that make CHS so great an opportunity for our students … so they still have had as full an experience as they can.”
Trustee Mike Walker acknowledged the difficulties the past year has created for families and staff members, and for seniors who are nearing the end of the year, he said any sudden academic shift in their schedule might not be to their advantage now.
“Families are e-mailing us about their struggles and opinions are different on both sides,” Walker said. “We have seniors trying to graduate. It’s their senior year. I don’t know if it’s a good thing trying to mix things up for them. They have a flow going right now.”
He also added it’s important to remember the needs of district staff members as well.
“Let’s find a way to support not only our students, but our staff and let’s get through the year and start next year fresh,” he said.
The CHS block schedule also requires 10 days per two weeks, which also has created complications in rescheduling the typical five-day school week.
The school board also asked about student athletes who might miss their one in-person class during the week if they’re schedule to attend sporting events.
Other items of note, according to Stokes, with opening the schools to students in pre-kindergarten to eighth grade students include the use of playground equipment at the elementary schools; students can remove their face coverings while actively playing an instrument that requires the use of their mouth and must wear a face covering when they are singing or not playing an instrument that requires the use of their mouth and maintain 6 feet of social distance. Sports guidance is provided by the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.
Public comment from staff members, parents and students on opening the schools in favor of and opposing the move was received at the beginning of the meeting and at the time of the item.
Molly Martin, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School, shared concerns that the workload for teachers has increased and said felt she has become more effective in her work as a result of having Mondays as a remote learning day and having the flexible time to consult with specialists and support staff.
Tearra Bobula, a computer teacher at Mark Twain, also worried about taking Mondays away from teachers.
“This has been very difficult to establish connections with the students and keep them motivated,” she said, explaining the difficulties in maintaining the same standards for all students.
Trustee Richard Varner said he hoped to see circumstances return to regular on-campus instruction next year.
“I think our goal would be to get kids back five days a week next year,” he said.
The school board approved the decision unanimously.

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