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This story is part of a series on the experiences of students attending three different California school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic, in spring 2022. It was produced through a partnership with CatchLight LocalandCalMatters.
Anthony Pritchett, a senior at Nevada Union High School, sits on the Nevada Joint Union High School District’s board of education as the student member. He’s tried to enjoy his last year of high school while also trying to navigate the politics surrounding schools and the pandemic.
In February, the district’s school board voted to make masking optional on campuses, violating an agreement with its teachers’ union. Schools in the 2,700-student district closed in the days following the vote because teachers refused to come to work.
As a student board member, Pritchett’s vote doesn’t count. But he said he voted against changing masking rules because it would set a “dangerous precedent” for teachers and their working conditions.
“It was a very scary, high-tension atmosphere at that board meeting,” he said. “I didn’t want to say much at all, which I still very much regret.”
Superintendent Brett McFadden said he was also disappointed by the board’s decision, because the district had to spend over $30,000 on legal fees to reach a settlement with the teachers’ union.
Nevada Union High School
Grass Valley, Nevada County
students, per 2021-22 enrollment
Two largest groups by ethnicity
Hispanic or Latino
percentage of students receiving free & reduced price meals
recorded COVID-19 cases in the school’s ZIP code (population: 26,281)
Sources: CA Dept. of Education; Nevada County Public Health as of June 21, 2022; American Community Survey 2020
“Individuals from the community or outside the community would parachute in and throw their hand grenades on whatever issue they were passionate about, and then they’d leave,” McFadden said. “Well, the next morning, it’s the teachers and myself who are here and we have to repair that damage.”
McFadden, who’s leaving the district in July for a new job, said the relationships within the community will take a long time to recover. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, he said, he likely would have stayed at the district. He said most of his employees are completely burned out.
“People were saying two or three months ago that we just want this year over,” McFadden said. “There was a sentiment of let’s get this year over with and come back next school year, hopefully refreshed.”
For Pritchett, this school year was full of compromises. School dances were held outside. Rallies were canceled. Friend groups dwindled.
But Pritchett said he tried to attend all his school events.
“We haven’t had any of these dances in like two years,” he said. “So I’m definitely trying to make the most of it.”
Student Reflections: Looking Back on School during COVID was reported and written by photojournalists Larry Valenzuela, Salgu Wissmath and David Rodriguez for CatchLight & CalMatters.
This project was produced by CalMatters & CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local CA Visual Desk. Contributors include Joe Hong, Miguel Gutierrez Jr., Martin do Nascimento, Mabel Jimenez and Jenny Jacklin-Stratton. The San Antonio Elementary School project was produced through additional collaboration with the Salinas Californian.
Salgu Wissmath is a nonbinary photographer based in Sacramento, CA. Salgu spent several years teaching elementary school in Mississippi, California, and South Korea and received an MA in Photography from...
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Student Reflections: Looking Back on School during COVID