The Clark County School District is recommending a distance learning start to the 2020-21 school year ahead of a School Board meeting Tuesday, according to a statement sent by the district Monday.
District staff will bring the recommendation to trustees, who are set to discuss and possibly vote on the instructional model for the beginning of the next school year. The meeting is set to start at 4 p.m.
A blended learning model in which students attend classes in person two days a week and stay home three days a week is also an option under the reopening plan framework approved July 9.
Trustees gave provisional approval of the options with the caveat that the details return to the board for final approval.
The board also will consider whether district employees will take 10 days of professional development at the beginning of the year virtually or in person, as well as whether secondary students will take a four-course, semester-based schedule or a more traditional six- or eight-class schedule.
According to board documents, the district does not appear to be issuing recommendations on those options.
The recommendation comes as pressure has grown for Clark County to follow the lead of other major school districts that have chosen to keep buildings shuttered during the pandemic.
Board President Lola Brooks said Monday that it was important for the district to consider the health and safety of students and staff.
“I realize that many people are apprehensive of distance education since schools closed abruptly without allowing staff or students to be prepared …” Brooks said. “I trust our education professionals and families to adjust if given more time to do so.”
Trustee Linda Cavazos, who has vocally called for distance learning given the rise in COVID-19 case numbers, said that based on community response, she felt a general sense of relief that the recommendation was to go online.
Cavazos said she’d like to see the details, including a structure and comprehensive plan for distance learning, as well as considerations for students with special needs.
“It’s like the main umbrella worry has been taken off the table, and now it’s time to put in the pieces: what’s going to be district wide, what’s going to be site-based?” Cavazos said.
As a former Advanced Placement teacher, she added that she felt strongly about a traditional school year for secondary students in order to allow them to take and complete electives that lead to scholarships and other future opportunities.
Trustee Danielle Ford, who had called for a soft start to the school year in which most students would learn online while buildings opened for vulnerable students, said she was pleased with the recommendation.
“Reopening schools incorrectly could have devastating consequences,” Ford said. “We need to focus our efforts on getting devices, internet and food to all students who need it and ensure they all have access.”
Ford said she was also hoping to hear options for the professional learning period, adding that she didn’t believe it was safe to require all staff to be at schools at the same time.
Teachers respond to survey
A Clark County Education Association survey of over 11,000 teachers found that 74 percent favored distance learning over school buildings reopening.
In a statement sent shortly before the recommendations were announced, the union said it does not support opening schools given the escalation of COVID-19 cases, adding that plans for testing, contact tracing, quarantining and accommodating teachers with high-risk health factors were essential before any employees returned to school buildings.
“If there is any plan to reopen schools, then our position is that it should be by choice for educators and choice for parents if they feel it is safe to return,” the statement said.
In its own survey, the National Education Association of Southern Nevada found that 56 percent of all employees did not feel comfortable returning if schools reopened, findings echoed by a Guinn Center for Policy Priorities survey that also indicated that over half of all employees did not feel comfortable returning.
Colleen McCarty, a parent of Clark County sophomores who has been organizing a group of parents concerned about the district’s reopening plans, said distance learning would cause hardship for working families who couldn’t take time off or work from home.
“If I had confidence that the school district could do it well, I think I could live with it for myself,” McCarty said. “The choice becomes your job or the safety of your child.”
But McCarty said she also feared that distance learning in the fall would look like it did in the spring, with no required material and little contact with teachers. If the district must institute distance learning, she said, she’d like to see real time, synchronous instruction and a traditional school year, as well as more oversight of the program from the Nevada Department of Education.
Rebecca Dirks Garcia, president of the Nevada PTA, said parents are eager for a final decision even if they don’t agree with it.
“Parents clearly want the Board of Trustees to focus on students and the need to ensure students receive an education, even if the format must be all online for public health reasons,” she said. “Effective distance education goes far beyond providing every student a device and Wi-Fi access.”
Garcia said the district needed to recognize individual student needs and family dynamics that may affect how successful they are with distance learning.
“Many parents will have no choice but to continue to go to work regardless of CCSD’s plans, and there must be understanding and empathy of the varied ability parents will have to support their students,” Garcia said. “I hope a final decision for reopening will allow the community to focus all energy on the most important thing — getting this right for our kids.”