Tense disagreement arises over fall logistics for Nevada County schools | TheUnion.com
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Tense disagreement arises over fall logistics for Nevada County schools

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

As most decisions about the upcoming school year have yet to be determined, many parents are expressing stark disagreement over what they want to happen come August.

Some parents and teachers have expressed deep fear over whether they want to have in-person classes at all, according to the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay, while others are voicing their intent on returning full time to school without masks or much caution at all, per public comments from the most recent Nevada County Board of Education meeting. Lay himself said at the meeting that he wants to do everything in his power to be able to encourage schools to open five days per week.

Ultimately, decisions about school logistics remain in the hands of individual districts and the local and state health departments, Lay said at the June 24 meeting. That is, the county board of education can try to persuade, but it can’t make the final decision.

As of last week, barring any unexpected changes, Earle Jamieson High School and local juvenile hall classes will be held in-person, five days per week, and the Terrence K. McAteer Center will run in-person classes four days per week, according to Lay. The reason these institutions can run in-person classes is because they are so small, said Lay. The maximum number of students one of those facilities holds is 11. Some have less.

For the rest of the schools in the county, the idea that students would not return to school five days per week or would have to wear masks and take certain precautions while doing so drew strong criticism from the public.

A teacher in Nevada County, Rochelle Larocca, spoke during public comment at the June 24 meeting, noting that she does not want students, particularly kindergartners, having to wear masks or gloves.

“It’s just really important for our students to not be required to do that,” she said. “I can’t possibly imagine how that’s going to work.”

Others were concerned about the mental health of students who had to follow strict safety procedures.

Penn Valley resident Kimberly Farwell stated during public comment that “COVID-19 is not an epidemic for the zero to 19 year olds” and that she doesn’t believe students need to follow restrictions.

“Anything less than five days a week of school will be a tragedy for the students under your education,” she said.

Eric Christen — who’s affiliated with ReOpen Nevada County — agreed.

“If we go back to anything that’s not close to normal, it’s cruelty,” he said.

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Nevada County Board of Education member Ashley Neumann said she’s heard from other students, including her son, that if they can’t play football, they don’t want to return to school.

“They’re at their wits end,” she said.

While there was much public outcry from critics of a cautious school year, other parents and teachers are quietly expressing concern about returning to school at all, said Lay.

Referring to May survey results sent out from individual school districts, Lay said at the meeting that anywhere from 10% to 30% of parents said they won’t send their kids back to school in the fall if there’s no vaccine available. Some teachers are also scared.

“We know there’s a percentage of teachers that are not coming back,” said Lay, later adding, “They’re going to have groups of kids coming in during the week… so they are more exposed than most people during the week.”

Substitute teachers are especially afraid, said Lay, likely because most of them are in a high-risk group. The Superintendent of Schools Office recently sent out a survey to gauge how many of them would return to work next school year, said Lay, noting that the Penn Valley school district has already hired one substitute teacher for the entire year.

“Most of them are older, they are retired, they are a more at-risk group,” he said.

While these disagreements over the fall play out, the ultimate decisions will be made by school district boards, following guidelines set by the state and local health departments.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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