CCSD updates community on recent developments
Schools opened their doors for county students on Monday
With the district ready to welcome students and teachers back on campus for the first time since March, the re-opening plan changed abruptly.
Originally scheduled to open on Aug. 25, the Churchill County School District pushed back opening day to Monday for a couple of reasons. Two students in the SumFun program transitioning into the CARES program tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Late transportation requests from parents living in the county also created problems as not enough buses were going to be ready to transport students last week.
After an hour-long Facebook conference in the commission chambers to discuss the latest developments affecting the delayed opening of school followed by the school district’s second board meeting of the month, both issues were resolved.
Summer Stephens, CCSD superintendent, and County Manager Jim Barbee fielded most of the questions during the Facebook conference. Shannon Ernst, the county’s social services director and coronavirus coordinator, answered questions on the COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
Barbee said the county learned the day before the original school start date that two students in the SumFun program who were transitioning into the CARES program tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The initial test had occurred Aug. 18, but the county was determining how many students in the CARES program may have been exposed. The CARES Act passed by Congress allocates money to local and state governments, and in Churchill County, some of that funding is being used for programs to supervise children during the school day.
Barbee said two other youth not enrolled in the CARES program also tested positive.
Ernst said the county reached out to the families quickly.
“It does go back to the families and where they could’ve contracted the actual infection,” she said.
Barbee said it took seven days from initial testing to receive the results. He said the state lab in Reno is under pressure to turn around results in a timely manner.
After receiving the information from the county and consulting with various stakeholders within the school district, Stephens decided to postpone the opening of schools for a week until logistics could be worked out. Stephens said the school district must follow guidelines issued by the Nevada Department of Education in reopening schools safely.
“There are varied feelings about the virus, and people are changing their minds,” she said.
Stephens said a number of staff members also have their children in the CARES program and are impacted by the recent news. She said the district is supporting those parents whose children may have been exposed.
Because of late transportation requests from parents living in the county, Stephens said the district didn’t have enough buses ready to transport students, especially for the afternoon session. Each bus can only hold 50 percent fewer students than during normal situations, and she said social distancing of 3-feet apart and facial coverings are required.
Stephens said each bus can transport no more than 40 to 45 students.
“Sometimes, routes cannot take on more students,” she said. “We’re almost to capacity.”
During Wednesday’s school board meeting, Kenny Mitchell, director of Transportation and School Safety, presented the challenges with planning, specifically calling out that there are not enough bus drivers. Some bus drivers did not return due to health concerns or finding another position with better hours and pay.
Stephens, though, said if people have concerns and questions about transportation, they can call 775-423-7135. Callers need to leave their names, their children’s name, address and phone number.
“It could take up to a week to do anything with a route,” she added.
Stephens said she hoped that during this week, though, the school district will have a more accurate count of students riding on each route.
With school starting this week, the school district is reminding the community to be cautious around buses and students who are walking to school. When the driver turns on the flashing yellow lights, the driver is about to stop at a railroad crossing or pick up kids. If the light is red, traffic is stopped in both directions and passing a school bus is against the law.
Also discussed during the board meeting: the current enrollment for the district is at 3,124 students with 25 percent opting for the full-distance learning option. The majority of students (1,269) signed up for the afternoon session of the hybrid plan while 1,082 students are scheduled for the morning session. Teaching position adjustments were also discussed.
Even with all the different avenues of disseminating information to parents in Churchill County, Stephens said some families indicated they were not receiving any communication. They are encouraged to call the school district at 775-423-5184.
The third-year superintendent also answered a question on classroom accommodations. One person asked why classrooms can’t accommodate every student assigned to the teacher like Washoe County. Stephens, though, said rooms must be 50% of capacity because of guidelines and social distancing. Her goal is for CCSD, however, is to provide good, quality instruction with the students in the allotted classroom space.
Once school begins, Stephens said the district intends to begin surveillance testing with its students for COVID-19. Stephens said the process will be a random sampling with all parents able to opt out their children. Parents will be notified a week ahead of the scheduled testing.
“The goal is 10%, but may be less due to staffing and available hours at the school sites,” she said. “Also, the testing allows us to keep ahead of possible infections/clusters, and helps keep our schools open if we can mitigate the infection issues.”
Stephens wants to re-emphasize parents may opt out their children.
Barbee and Stephens also addressed other concerns:
• If any classroom has a positive case, Stephens said the person, teacher or student will be isolated, and the county will determine the contacts. The superintendent said the district will close the room, which will allow for deep cleaning, and then proceed with the best way to continue instruction.
• If a parent or family member tests positive, then the student may remain in quarantine for 14 days depending on the situation. Other steps are in place to address this.
• Because of the adjustment of the school calendar, Stephens said students will make up four days. She is working on a revision to the calendar.
• The county is still doing COVID-19 testing at the fairgrounds. Call 775-423-6695, option 2. Leave a message, and a person from Social Services will return the call usually within 24 hours.
Thomas Ranson contributed to this story by covering the school board meeting for the latest updates.