Carson City third through sixth graders to return to schools Jan. 19 |

Carson City third through sixth graders to return to schools Jan. 19

By Jessica Garcia

The Carson City School Board on Thursday approved opening elementary and middle school campuses for the return of third- to sixth-grade students to in-person learning four days a week Tuesdays through Fridays as of Jan. 19.

The vote would reestablish in-person learning for all elementary students at the beginning of the second semester and keep Mondays as remote learning days for all students. All students in full-remote and in-seat will continue check in with their homeroom teachers electronically and work at home or on their own during the school day. 

Previously, the modification for pre-kindergarten through second-grade students was made in October when the first quarter came to an end. District officials reported gains have been made with the younger age group since November in ways that it was important to start looking incrementally at bringing back more of the older students.

Superintendent Richard Stokes on Thursday said under the district’s different instructional models since COVID-19 was announced in March – including the fully remote model using computers where students study from home or the Boys and Girls Clubs or locations other than school campuses or the hybrid model that combines classroom instruction two days a week with remote instruction three days a week – results have varied in students’ academic success.

“We have seen a huge increase in absenteeism and engagement and in failures,” Stokes said. “And we know our students do their best when they’re in person, face to face with a qualified teacher and have new material reinforced daily and have new material with teachers.”

The issue, however, raised questions about how the district might handle its operations and services. School principals Ruthlee Caloiaro of Mark Twain Elementary School, Jennifer Ward DeJoseph of Fremont Elementary School and Susan Squires of Empire Elementary School all answered questions about how their own staff members assisted students at various times of the day with maintaining social distancing and remembering to wear their masks as much as possible while remaining mindful about personal hygiene.

Stokes said he was confident students are well-trained in various matters as needed.

“I don’t know our students have ever been cleaner,” he said. “If you’ve ever seen our students walk through the halls, they practice zombie arms. We believe our students are safe at school. But that doesn’t mean they will never get sick. If you think of life before COVID, our students became ill. Our teachers became ill.”

Caloiaro said at Mark Twain, she has been working to ensure students understand the expectations and routines as such that they have eliminated community sharing of school supplies, they always use the hand sanitizer pumps entering and exiting the cafeterias and classrooms, do not share computers, seats and so forth.

Trustees asked whether the classrooms are big enough for social distancing with class sizes as big as 28 students needed for up to 6 feet of space, and Caloairo said her largest class has 25 students and her rooms can accommodate this requirement.

Ward DeJoseph presented on the social and emotional impacts of keeping students away from in-person learning as well as the struggles staff not seeing the “ah-ha” moments students make as they learn.

“I think the important thing to remember tonight is the number 30,” she said. “We’ve had 30 opportunities to see each child face to face, 30 opportunities for them to interact with their friends, 30 opportunities for them to interact with their teachers … and I’m hoping we can do better in the second semester with our kiddos.”

Stokes also said currently, the district is still working to determine issues on transportation and will be asking families to work on getting children to schools until further notice. The typical coordination for getting children to school is a challenge.

“Under our current restrictions, we can’t use our buses as they’re designed for,” Stokes said. “We have a little bit of time between now and when we intend to rolls this out.”

Even seeking a return to sports with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association and the social distancing required to keep students apart on the buses will be difficult because to transport the older students would require most districts to take up to three buses instead of one bus per team in most instances, he said.

Public comments submitted from district staff members and parents arguing for and against bringing students back implored trustees to consider a number of health, academic, emotional and social reasons.

Brian Peterson, a third grade teacher at Seeliger Elementary School, acknowledged the district’s efforts to protect staff and students, but opposed the plan to bring students back next month.

“I want it to be known I want my students in class every day,” his comment was read. “I am opposed to returning third to sixth graders in class. Are we willing to do this simply because they don’t have transportation?”

Bonnie Benson, a fifth-grade teacher at Fritsch Elementary School, suggested CCSD to adopt stronger methods of notifying parents if any illness presents among students or on campus.

“If one child is positive, the entire classroom and teacher needs to be on quarantine,” according to Benson’s comment. “We cannot ignore CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and not expect consequences.”

Some parents expressed concerns about having their children repeat their grade because they’ve fallen behind academically and in greater need now of more individualized social attention to make larger gains. Others, who said they have been actively engaged with their students while they have been learning remotely at home, have noticed decreases in their academic gains with their younger children and are worried for those who have special needs and would be better served by being in a classroom with their teachers every day.

Trustees asked whether returning schools would open the board to liability in regards to Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directives on limiting direct contact with others. District counsel Ryan Russell responded Sisolak gave great discretion to the school districts.

“I think with all the protocols in place, which is in compliance with the directives, you would have the best defense of doing everything within your power to comply with the directive and what’s in the best interest of the kids,” Russell said.

Trustee Stacie Wilke-McCulloch said she appreciated the work the administrators and district staff have done to ensure students could try to come back as soon as possible.

“I don’t think there’s any of us who don’t want these kids back in school,” she said. “None of us have taken this decision very lightly. … I’m thankful we can have a special meeting and that it came on our shoulders and that it wasn’t on your hands, either. I think this decision needed to be made on this level.”