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Charter authority board OKs allowing 40% of students on campus

Updated November 6, 2020 - 4:43 pm

Nevada’s public charter schools will have the option of bringing more students back to campus for in-person classes starting next week.

After an approximately 30-minute presentation and discussion, the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board voted unanimously Friday to allow schools to bring up to 40 percent of their students on campus at any given time. The change goes into effect Monday.

It essentially loosens a distance learning mandate the board approved in mid-August that says schools in counties with an elevated level of COVID-19 transmission — including Clark County — can provide in-person instruction for up to 25 percent of their students.

The decision to allow more students back on campus comes as nine Nevada counties, including Clark, are flagged by the state for elevated levels of COVID-19 transmission and case rates have been trending upward.

“Over the last few weeks, we have seen case numbers and test positivity rates across our country and across our state increase,” charter authority Executive Director Rebecca Feiden told the board. “We are watching these numbers closely and continue to keep our schools informed.”

As of Friday, authority-sponsored schools have seen 105 COVID-19 cases among students and employees, and about 225 people have been excluded from schools as a result.

“Our schools have done an incredible job of handling those cases,” Feiden said.

Bringing students back to campuses has risks and so does keeping students at home, she told the board, noting she’s aware there’s concerning data on students’ academic progress and social impacts due to distance learning.

Responding to the pandemic is an unprecedented challenge, and “weighing these factors (is) incredibly difficult,” she said.

Feiden said she believes all schools still maintain a 100 percent distance learning option for parents who aren’t comfortable with sending their child back in person, “and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.”

And with the 40 percent in-person threshold, schools aren’t required to change what they’re already doing, she added, but noted the revised mandate would provide them with additional flexibility.

The mandate also gives Feiden the authority to “in unique circumstances” to require additional restrictions for specific schools or counties based on public health data or if schools aren’t complying with health directives. But she told the board she hasn’t heard of any instances where schools aren’t compliant.

Many Nevada public charter schools started the school year with fully distance education, but most have since initiated some form of in-person instruction — often, focusing on special populations or certain grade levels, Feiden told the board.

The charter authority held several focus group sessions in mid-October for school leaders. Of 32 charter holders who participated, 22 said they would like to increase the number of students they bring back for in-person learning, six said they were undecided and four opposed the idea.

The Clark County School District — which has more than 307,000 students — is operating under fully distance education and there’s no timeline for when students may return to campuses. The school board is slated to consider a recommendation Nov. 12.

Reactions to the change

Charter authority board member Sami Randolph asked whether schools could potentially have to scale back their in-person instruction in the future.

That’s a serious concern, Feiden said, and it’s one reason for taking the approach of slowly bringing back students to campus. As for having to phase down, “I think we would all like to avoid that, but unfortunately, I am not sure if we can predict the future.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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