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School board approves plans for Aug. 24 opening

Updated July 15, 2020 - 6:15 pm

Editor’s Note: See full story of Nye County School District’s re-entry plan on Friday, July 17

Nye County School District Superintendent Warren Shillingburg told parents that the first day of school has been pushed back until Aug. 24 and several options remain in play for how that opening will be accomplished.

In a letter dated July 15, Shillingburg said the reopening plan with options for 100% in-person instruction, a hybrid model and full-time distance learning. “These options must be flexible, and we need to be prepared to move among each of them as dictated by state mandates or student/staff health,” Shillingburg wrote. “These plans were chosen based on feedback we received from our parent/teacher surveys, administrator feedback and (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”

The plans call for pre-K to fifth-grade students to be taught in person, although grades 4 and 5 might move to the hybrid model if necessary to meet state occupancy requirements. Pahrump Valley High School and Rosemary Clarke Middle School will be taught via the hybrid model, in which students would return to class two days each week (either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday) and participate in distance learning three days each week.

Students with an Individualized Education Program and those in the “remote rural” middle and high schools will be taught 100% in person.

All families have the option to choose distance learning for their students, provided they have internet access and students maintain progress.

The in-person model includes minimal mixing and enhanced cleaning, the hybrid model includes a shortened school day to support students who are not at school, and the distance learning model includes teacher-led instruction synchronized with the hybrid and in-person models to allow flexibility.

“Our plan today may need to change before school starts based upon any directives from the state or if there is a drastic increase in the number of cases in Nye County,” Shillingburg wrote. “These plans also could change based upon the actual number of students whose parents choose 100% online. Our survey indicated about 25% of families prefer 100% online, which would reduce our class sizes, helping us to support social distancing guidelines.”

Shillingburg acknowledged that teachers need necessary professional development to teach in these options, which why the first day of class has been delayed until Aug. 24, with pre-K and kindergarten beginning Aug. 27.

“Please know the health and safety of everyone is of the utmost importance to all of us as we try to balance safety with the need and desire to return students back to school,” Shillingburg stressed. “We understand having students back in the classroom where they can work face-to-face with their teachers is the ultimate goal; this is where we know students have the best opportunity for success.

“We will continue to work toward that goal of having all students back in the classroom as soon as it is determined to be safe for all involved.”

The presentation of the plan to the Board included some of the safety measures that will be taken in the county’s schools when they reopen. Masks will be required of all students and staff when moving outside the classroom or on buses. Face shields will be provided to teachers, as will masks for those staff and students who are not able to provide their own.

In situations where social distancing can be maintained, teachers will have the flexibility for students not to wear masks when in the classroom or when outside.

If an outbreak occurs within a school, the CDC guidelines will be followed regarding contact tracing where possible and for whom and for how long classrooms or entire schools need to be closed.

“We will be working closely with each school’s principal to manage these instructional options and to implement safety protocols to the extent possible,” the superintendent wrote. “Keeping our parents informed is a top priority, especially now where we may be asked to change without much notice.”

Parents will be hearing from their students’ principal or district office with regard to their preference for online or face-to-face instruction.

As to operations, several assumptions were factored into developing instructional plans for this year. Money issues were at the top, as it was assumed that the district will be operating in an environment of “significantly reduced state revenues” while there will be costs in dollars, time, supplies and human resources to reduce disease transmission.

When it comes to COVID-19, the plans assumed there will be active cases in Nye County at the time of school opening and throughout the academic year, and a vaccine is not expected to have an impact during that time. Also, an outbreak in Nye County could require a temporary school closure for one or more schools, and at any time during the year non-core functions of the district could be temporarily curtailed, postponed or eliminated.

Potential waves of virus outbreak and changing guidance from county health officials mean schools could have to pivot quickly between delivery models.

Two issues that might not be at the forefront for some people were also acknowledged in the plan: day care options are limited in Nye County, and employing enough substitutes, licensed and classified, is going to be challenging.

Shillingburg acknowledged that the circumstances have created a difficult environment in which to begin his first year as the district’s new superintendent.

“I am excited to begin this year as the new superintendent for the Nye County School District,” he wrote. “I have experienced a lot of things in my 35 years as an educator, but this has to be the biggest challenge I have ever faced.

“Knowing we can never eliminate 100% of the threats and provide our students with the most effective instruction, we all strive to find the right balance. We will continue to monitor our situation and follow state directives. We appreciate your support and understanding as we work through this new normal together.”

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