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School boards across Nevada face unrest and upheaval

Associated Press

Students return to in-person classes last year at the Greenbrae Elementary School in Sparks. The Washoe County school board has faced turmoil as the district copes with the pandemic.

Clark County school board meetings have recently seen their share of acrimony and accusations. So has much of the rest of the state.

Other boards have faced resignations and unrest, and several are searching for new superintendents.

Over the summer, five of seven trustees overseeing Elko County schools resigned only weeks after the new superintendent abruptly left the district.

In Washoe County, three school board members have resigned since the start of the year. One says he left because he feared for his life. Another was threatened with censure for making statements that some considered misinformation about the district. And just like Elko, Washoe County finds itself trying to find another superintendent after Kristen McNeill recently announced her unexpected retirement.

“Trying to lead a district in the midst of so much turmoil, you know, social justice curriculum and COVID. I think it's just been a battle,” said Reno Gazette-Journal education reporter Siobhan McAndrew. “She decided to resign (because) it was the best personal decision for her, as she said.”

McAndrew also said the fraught environment has left board members concerned.

“They don't talk publicly much about it,” she said, but “they've had people put on social media that we should drive by their houses, we should go knock on their doors, things like that. So I think it's been pretty, pretty stressful.”

Deb Oliver, executive director of the Nevada Association of School Boards, said no matter what district they serve, school board members face “the stress, the anxiety, the sleepless nights of making decisions on the health of the kids.”

Olver told State of Nevada good might come from the fresh faces turnover produces, pointing to Elko County.

“They have an interim superintendent; they have replaced the five board members and are moving forward,” she said. “What's the outcome for the community? Fresh eyes, a fresh board direction, maybe more consensus, maybe more ideas that they'll be able to understand and come together to move forward.”

Deb Oliver, executive director, Nevada Association of School Boards; Siobhan McAndrew, reporter, Reno Gazette-Journal; Paul Boger, Northern Nevada news producer Nevada Public Radio

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Paul serves as KNPR's producer and reporter in Northern Nevada. Based in Reno, Paul specializes in covering state government and the legislature.