Looking toward this week’s special board meeting, the Nevada Joint Union High School District weighs concerns as it prepares to present its reopening plan and long-term fiscal outlook.
The school board meeting will be held through Zoom at 4 p.m. Wednesday. (See this story at TheUnion.com for a direct link).
“The challenge is that it’s like we’re standing on sand right now and it continues to shift,” said district superintendent Brett McFadden.
In particular, he noted that the updated guidance on reopening given by Gov. Gavin Newsom in a press conference Friday presents new challenges in planning.
“This is going to radically change how many of us thought we were going to reopen,” said McFadden, saying the district’s administrators are struggling to provide firm answers to parents and students as the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic changes day by day.
According to the governor’s announced guidelines, counties must stay off the state watchlist — which tracks use of ventilators and intensive care unit capacity, among other factors — for 14 days before their students may return to in-person instruction. As Nevada County is not one of the 32 counties currently on the list, local districts are eligible to have students return to campus to some extent.
Additional guidelines announced by the governor for schools returning to in-person instruction include a requirement that students in third through 12th grade wear masks while on campus. He emphasized access to devices and connectivity for all students as a priority, saying that the budget has been adjusted to reflect this.
According to Newsom, state schools have been provided two months’ worth of personal protective equipment in the form of millions of masks and face shields, with an identified next step being the procurement and distribution of specific smaller sizes of masks.
“We may not be speaking about the adoption of a firm plan,” McFadden said on the potential outcome of Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m speaking of the board adopting parameters for a plan allowing me, as the chief executive for the district, the ability to move and pivot as things change.”
As an example situation in which the district would require flexibility, McFadden said that entire campuses may need to be shut down on short notice should a member of a given campus be diagnosed with COVID-19.
“No matter what we do, whether a distanced instructional model or hybrid instructional model, neither one of them is optimal — both are attempting to triage,” said McFadden. “This is a national crisis.”
He said that he will be presenting both the option of the district’s plan to return to school under a hybrid, cohort-based instructional model as announced in a Wednesday parent meeting and a fully distanced model to the board.
“I desperately want our students on campus. I think that is the safest, best place for them under normal circumstances,” said McFadden. “But, we’re not under normal circumstances.”
The board meeting will also include a presentation of the district’s long term fiscal outlook, to be brought up for formal adoption on Aug. 12. According to McFadden, while the district formally adopted a budget last month, it is now being revised to reflect the state’s new budget and education plan.
“We’ll show what effect (reopening) is having on our long term fiscal viability and lay out how we hope to address that,” said McFadden. “The problem is that, while we’re required to do a lot more during this COVID-19 crisis, we’re receiving a lot less in revenue with which to do it.”