'Subject to change:' Carson City schools will have hybrid model to start year

The Carson City School Board on Tuesday approved a hybrid model for its school reopening plan in a 4-3 vote after a lengthy discussion covering special considerations such as sanitizing school campuses or how the district might support working parents.

Following the board’s meeting on July 14 at which it considered its draft plan and public comment received at the time, Superintendent Richard Stokes reported this Tuesday that the instructional model – a hybrid plan blending both in-person and remote learning – falls in line with the Nevada administration’s current social distancing and occupancy restrictions. He also said the district collected recommendations and input from his school reopening committee and community survey data, met with staff and stakeholders and watched as the state’s other school districts also began going through the process to make similar decisions this week.

“The hybrid model seemed to allow students a way to come back to school,” Stokes told the board as he introduced the merits of using the hybrid model. “It allows them to see their friends, see their teachers, to grow and experience human interaction like we offer at school. There are some advantages.”

The board heard details from Stokes on a number of issues generalizing what academics, nutrition services, transportation, special populations, building sanitization and other considerations might look like for all three models that he presented to the board, including in-person, online and the hybrid.

Stokes said a full return to in-person instruction in current conditions would not be possible during the pandemic. He described that many families had provided feedback that they’re not comfortable sending their children back to physical classrooms due to COVID-19 for the time being, then proceeded with an overview of the full remote and hybrid schedules.

In the full remote learning situation, Stokes described the district’s online program, which has been available to families for some time already. But he said without knowing exactly how many this could serve for now, the district had planned to provide certain remote learning tools for two-and-a-half to three hours a day at grade level with a district classroom teacher for kindergarten to fifth graders using commercial curriculum. For sixth to eighth graders, a similar model would be used using a district teacher and Edgenuity software, and for ninth to 12th graders, online learning would be applied with commercial curriculum and an online teacher.

Stokes said the school district would pay per-pupil costs for K-5 students, which district chief financial office Andrew Feuling added there are annually budgeted funds for online programming through a company called Pearson.

While Stokes outlined how each model could be executed, ultimately he shared with the board a hybrid schedule would work best for all grade levels, with groups spending two days on campus and three days at home. This model had been recommended by the reopening committee, offering more benefits for parents in need of day care and being the most flexible for social distancing restrictions. Teachers will provide instruction from home and support their students using virtual tools such as the Zoom platform, and student groups, divided into “A” and “B” according to their grade levels among their campuses. Students will experience different schedules in the morning and afternoon times for elementary, middle and high school levels with block schedules offered for core subjects and electives for middle and high school students. One of the main tenets, Stokes added, is to allow for flexibility for teachers and staff and to minimize health risks for all as much as possible.

Stokes told the Appeal Thursday in a follow-up call regarding Tuesday’s board meeting that the district is working tirelessly to address any anxiety parents, staff and community members have about bringing students back to school sites and on its buses.

“The immediate steps are one, to have our staff feel comfortable in coming back to work, and two, we want our community members to feel comfortable in sending their children, and we want everybody to know we’ll work to the best of our ability to meet needs and to answer their questions and cover their concerns,” he said.

Stokes on Tuesday said the district also supports special populations the best and allows for the greatest teacher and student interaction.

“I think the hybrid model with implementations with requiring masks for everyone with the social distancing, limiting number of kids in the building, containing it to a small group of kids, I think that provides a mitigated risk of transmission, business that have required masks and have required those types of things,” Trustee Laurel Crossman said. “I’m concerned about the safety of children when they’re not in school.”

The conversation about the model raised a number of questions about its feasibility about academics, logistics and health.

Trustee Don Carine asked about spaces where students might interact in close proximity other than classrooms beyond staff control, such as hallways, during free time for the middle school and high schools. Trustee Joe Cacioppo was concerned about whether bus drivers could identify whether students were sick before students boarded or if they should even know if the correct students should be taking any new routes for which they might be assigned as a result of the social distancing policies and rerouting. Crossman asked about having a backup plan should custodians or janitors need others to assist on a moment’s notice to sanitize buildings.

Trustee Stacie Wilke-McCulloch expressed having equity concerns with either the hybrid or online models, stating uncertainty about where COVID-19 might lead in the coming months.

“I have a real concern for the people at home that don’t think we’re taking this seriously, that think we care just about the money,” she said. “We’ve never been here for the money, but we have to look at the finances.”

After discussion and the board opened the public comment period, comments ranged from parents or district staff members asking about whether teachers could visit homes if parents or students have disabilities, supporting working parents in need of child care, concerns about using face shields versus face masks and hiring longterm substitutes, and there were more specific questions about cleaning policies or supplies.

Stokes in his presentation reminded the board and asked the public to be “flexible” in whatever the outcome from Tuesday’s vote.

“Everything is subject to change, and it happens regularly and often since last March, and we’re just trying to be flexible and able to go with those changes,” Stokes reminded the board. “If we don’t have an answer to a question immediately, we’ll try to study that out and see if we can apply those changes to our operations and organization.”

He added Thursday despite many of the unknowns, many of the staff members he’s heard remain optimistic and will do what it takes to physically meet with their students again.

“It will take some time to practice learning new skills before everybody’s completely comfortable,” Stokes told the Appeal. “I would say more staff members that I’ve heard from are excited to go back to school.”

Trustees Crossman, Lupe Ramirez, Richard Varner and Mike Walker on Tuesday voted for the hybrid model while trustees Cacioppo, Carine and Wilke-McCulloch voted against it.


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