Schools superintendent provides update on extracurriculars, free meals and employee furloughs

Washoe County School District Superintendent resumed her weekly media briefings Friday following a week off from them during fall break. The superintendent uses these briefings primarily to provide updates on COVID-19 trends and enrollment numbers in the schools.

The district’s website also has a data tracker with information about COVID-19 cases. Recently, a time stamp was added to it so it is possible to see when it was last updated. As of Friday, there were 20 active cases at 13 schools. This brings the cumulative number of cases that have occurred in district staff and students to 85 cases, which have affected 44 schools.

Currently, the school district has 21,003 students participating in in-person learning, 19,944 in distance learning and 20,872 in the hybrid model. McNeill noted these numbers represent a slight uptick in the in-person total.

Extracurriculars and athletic conditioning resumed at schools on Monday, Oct. 12. McNeill said when the Board of Trustees went to Reed High School for its meeting on Oct. 13, “it was great to see our students out on the field. We had JROTC practicing. We had band. So, it was just great.”

Washoe County student athletes protested at a recent Board of Trustees meeting over regulations that prohibited them from participating in school sports. Image: Eric Marks

Restrictions will remain in place, however. Clubs and other groups can only meet once per week. And actual games will not resume until after the new year. Student athletes previously protested the prohibition on school sports at the Sept. 8 Board of Trustees meeting, despite the decision to resume resting with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association.

The district will also be putting out guidelines for the resumption of PE classes and new recess rules. Children still won’t be able to use the big toys on playgrounds, but the school district is hoping to give them access to more balls and jump ropes and the like.

Free meals for all kids under 18, regardless of enrollment in the district, will continue through the school year and into the summer, McNeill said. She added that the district is encouraging parents to go onto its website and use the meal order form there to help the district gauge how many meals it will need each week at its distribution sites.

McNeill said the district is working on a plan to expand the number of distribution sites—and maybe those sites’ hours—in the near future. The hope is that more students will take advantage of the meals, thus helping to offset staggering losses in the district’s Nutrition Services Fund, which have led to preliminary action to furlough 98 employees. Despite the meals being free for families, the district is still reimbursed for them thanks to a waiver issued by the United States Department of Agriculture.  

“As you all know, this past Tuesday the board had a very difficult deliberation around Nutrition Services. At the board meeting on Tuesday, the board adopted decision one,” McNeill said about the furloughs. “What that decision has brought forward then is that there will be a furlough of 98 benefited and non-benefited employees.”

She noted that this decision will be reviewed at the next board meeting on Nov. 10 and added that district officials have already met with bargaining units that represent different types of employees affected and had an all-employee meeting with Nutrition Services. The school district is hoping to move some Nutrition Services employees into different positions ranging from bus driving to being aides or assistants as well as some other technical positions.

“We will continue to look under every rock for any additional funding we possibly can,” McNeill said. “We are going to continue to aggressively pursue any alternative funding options to help mitigate these impacts.”

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