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How Nevada County successfully returned to the classroom | Reopening California schools

“You can have a school open, safely. We’ve proven it here in Nevada County. You just have to be careful. You have to use common sense,” Superintendent Scott Lay said

NEVADA CITY, Calif. — As more schools prepare to return to in-person learning, representatives for some districts that have already blazed the trail are sharing how reopening has gone for them.

The Nevada County Public School system has had a lot of success in its return, according to Superintendent Scott Lay.

Eight of the nine school districts are back in the classroom -- five of those started back in fall 2020 on a hybrid schedule, Lay said. Three others started back two weeks ago, and the final district will start back in March.

“I think our biggest success without a doubt has been the ability to stay open safely. We worked over the entire summer on very stringent protocols – to make sure staff and students were safe – and a lot of work went into that and it paid off,” Lay said.

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The return wasn’t without its bumps along the way. Lay said due to the district’s safety procedures and contact tracing, students and teachers have had to quarantine if they were considered a risk. 

Only once, however, was a district forced back into distance learning because of exposure.

“We did have one small school district that had to close because a person made contact in all of the classrooms, right around between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a presumptive positive case,” Lay said.

He also said the district’s special education program had to return to distance learning briefly when coronavirus cases began to spike in the county.

“We’ve done a good job of being able to pivot, if we do have to close, to not have to close for too long. To be able to get there, do what’s needed, and get the school back open again for in-person learning,” Lay said.

Teachers in Nevada County were also among the first to be offered COVID vaccinations.

“We have had every educator in Nevada County vaccinated, who wanted to be vaccinated, at the end of January,” Lay said. “[Feb 17] is the first day of a 3-day clinic to get their second dose.”

And while it is still unknown how local and national health officials will approach the situation if a student gets sick, Lay said having teachers and staff vaccinated has decreased the overall fear level and that in turn has shifted the conversation to the possibility of getting back to a more normal schedule from the hybrid model.

“Because of the vaccinations, the conversation is now how can we get kids here more? Some schools are looking at how they can get back to 5-days a week, not for a full day, but for a good part of the day. So that’s another very positive takeaway,” he said.

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Lay admitted he is surprised at how well reopening went in Nevada County, especially when it came to individual responsibilities from staff and students to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

“Everyone said how hard it’s going to be to [follow the protocols all day]. ‘The teachers won’t be able to do it. The students won’t be able to do it.’ Well, everyone did it and it’s worked. And they found out it wasn’t so bad,” he said.

Overall, Lay emphasized two key points in successfully reopening: sticking to your safety protocols and complete cooperation between all schools in the district and with the local health department.

“You can have a school open, safely. We’ve proven it up here in Nevada County. You just have to be careful. You have to use common sense,” he said.

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For school districts reopening for the first time, Lay had this to say:

“They’re going to be sacred, and it’s OK. It does work. The key is following the procedures you have in place. The mask-wearing is critical. The sanitizing is critical. Six feet of spacing between students and staff was critical,” he said. “It can work. And to see the kids and the absolute joy of them coming back to school and seeing their friends, seeing their teacher, that right there will make it worth it.”

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