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Nevada Joint Union High School District to begin year in distance learning, revisit options after first quarter

Jessica Lee, president of the Nevada Joint Union High School Teachers Association, said some people are taking a teacher’s concern for their own safety and using it to question their dedication and integrity.

Lee, a teacher at Nevada Union High School, presented the results of a survey of her association’s members at a Wednesday meeting of the Nevada Joint Union High School District board. Of the 119 teachers who responded, 70.5% held a moderate or higher concern for their safety if returning to in-person instruction; 45.3% expressed they highly preferred returning to full-distance learning; and 27.6% favored a hybrid instructional model.

The board discussed the possibility of students returning to some form of in-person instruction, though ultimately approved a plan for the 2020-21 school year to begin in a full-distance learning instructional model. All members but Pat Seeley voted in favor.

School begins Aug. 17.

“Personally, I am one who is not overly concerned with returning to the classroom if we implement safe practices. However, I cannot ignore the concerns of so many of my colleagues,” said Lee, concluding her statement by urging the board to approve a full-distance learning model to begin the year.

District Superintendent Brett McFadden presented his recommendation to the board, asking that the district begin the year in a full-distance learning format and consider a return to in-person instruction upon reevaluation at the end of the first quarter.

“It is my firm belief that the hybrid model, given what we know now and what I projected to happen in the county with regard to number of cases, poses significant risk to educational and instructional continuity as well as significant risk to the health and safety of our employees, staff, students, and broader community,” said McFadden.

During the public comment period, several members of the community expressed their agreement with the recommendation, including Nevada Union High School English teacher Kelsey Langel.

Langel said she wished she could support a return to in-person instruction, citing the emotional need of students and teachers for classroom interaction. “However, I cannot ethically or morally support the idea of any physical return to school while COVID-19 cases surge around us, knowing that gathering in schools would lead to lives lost no matter how many protocols are in place,” she said.

Some voiced disagreement with the proposed return to full-distance learning, including Ashley Neumann, a member of the Nevada County Board of Education. Neumann said her biggest concern about distance learning is that assistance be offered to parents, in particular single mothers, who are unable to work while caring for their children.

“It concerns me that day cares are being allowed in our state, but no education, and it’s the same kids in groups — the same risk,” said Neumann. “It doesn’t seem intelligent to just put kids in a room with all the same health risk, and not educate them while they’re there.”


Assistant Superintendent Dan Frisella emphasized at Wednesday’s meeting that he and other administrators have identified necessary solutions to problems encountered in the spring, for an improved distance learning model going forward.

“That was an incredible effort in a trying time,” said Frisella. “I think in hindsight, all our staff agree that was less than ideal, and was in fact crisis or emergency remote teaching, and we recognize there are improvements to be made.”

Frisella said planned improvements include a districtwide syllabus template, training modules for students and parents in how to navigate the new instructional model, a consistent schedule for required check-ins to best simulate the regularity of in-person schooling, and the addition of tutoring services.

In addition, the district has identified Penn Valley, North San Juan, and Camptonville as areas where additional support may be offered in the form of community access hubs or deliveries of food and educational materials.

“We have been planning since May to make sure that, whatever model we adopted that involved distance learning, that we were going to be the best at distance learning,” McFadden said Thursday.

McFadden pointed to professional development training as one of the next steps the district will take now that the decision to go forward with full-distance learning has been approved.

“We’ll be assisting teachers, training them in best practices and protocol for distance learning,” said McFadden, adding that administrators will also be training in these practices.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.

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