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Schools open in-person on Monday

After taking the temperature of the public and experts, Douglas County school trustees decided to leave screening to parents.

That was just one of the questions trustees took up Tuesday evening as they rolled toward opening schools combining in-person and distance learning.

Carson Valley elementary schools with the room will open for daily instruction on Monday for students in the first three grades, Douglas County School Board trustees decided on Tuesday.

But there are a few exceptions, including third-graders at Jacks Valley and Meneley elementary schools, who will attend on the hybrid plan for the first two weeks while the Douglas County School District determines how to work with those schools smaller classrooms.

The reopening of schools occurs in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, which claimed the first Douglas resident’s life this week.

“Monday will not be the smoothest first day of school we’ve had,” Board President Robbe Lehmann said on Tuesday. “There will be foreseen and unforeseen problems.”

Superintendent Keith Lewis said the district is seeking a variance from the state that allows the installation of plastic shields between desks.

Should that variance be granted, the district will be able to open the schools to grades 1-5 in the Valley, where sixth-graders go to the two middle schools.

“We asked for the variance and they’ve spoken about it being a good idea,” Lewis said. “If we get the variance approved, we will have no problem. If we don’t, we’ll need a board position for what to do with fourth- and fifth-graders.”

Until the district hears from the state, students will attend school one day and use distance learning the next in what is called a hybrid model. The goal is to reduce the number of students in any given class by half so they can properly social distance.

All students and personnel will be required to wear masks unless they have a valid medical reason.

A key debate was whether to require students to have their temperatures taken and when that should happen.

Calling temperature screenings a significant logistical challenge for school personnel, the question was whether the screenings are effective.

While screenings are routine at doctor’s offices, they aren’t necessarily an early indicator of the coronavirus.

Carson City Health and Human Services Preparedness Manager Jeanne Freeman pointed out that many patients don’t develop a temperature until many days into the illness.

Lewis said where temperatures are taken it requires roughly 15 minutes to get through 50 children, which will cost a significant amount of instructional time, which is at a premium.

Board Vice President Linda Gilkerson said she understood that screenings wouldn’t capture 100 percent of the possible infections, but that if it identified a few, it might help to keep a school from being shut down.

Trustee Tom Moore said he felt the responsibility for checking on students lies with parents.

Lehmann said he’d talked with Douglas County Health Officer Dr. John Holman, who pointed out that while self-screening doesn’t work perfectly, neither do temperature screenings.

After going back and forth on the feasibility of taking temperatures, school trustees decided parents should check their children before sending them to school, which was already in the originally approved plan.

If someone in the schools does develop symptoms during the day, the district will tell them to go home.

Employees will be urged to take a test and not come back until they get results. They will be told not to come to work until they’ve been symptom-free for 24 hours.

Should the school find a student with the virus, the child will be kept in isolation until a parent and guardian can come for them.

“We cannot require students to take a test, but we can tell them we want them to be without fever for 24 hours before they are allowed to return to campus,” Lewis said.

If a child tests positive for the virus then the school would be notified, as would anyone who had contact with the child.

The decision to close a school would be up to Lewis, who said he’d rely on medical advice.

“My feel for those people is that they are going to do what’s best for our kids,” Lewis said. “I’m not trained as a medical professional, so I will rely on them.”

The district has divided students into two cohorts for the hybrid model. The goal was not to split up families of children so they would be on the same schedule. Lewis said that there is still some cleanup to do on those lists.

“For the most part, it went pretty well,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people wish they were on different cohorts than they are, but we are holding tight to no personal requests.”

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak closed the schools in March as part of an emergency declaration. That declaration has been modified to allow schools to reopen.