weather icon Partly Cloudy

Early starting Nevada charter schools urged to use distance learning

Updated August 12, 2020 - 8:07 am

Public charter schools in Clark, Washoe and Elko counties planning to begin the new school year before Aug. 24 are being advised to start with distance education rather than the hybrid learning plans many have developed.

Rebecca Feiden, executive director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority, issued the recommendation in an Aug. 5 memorandum to schools. The authority released the document Tuesday to the Review-Journal in response to an inquiry.

The recommendation applies to public charter schools sponsored by the charter authority in Clark, Washoe and Elko counties — all of which have elevated COVID-19 transmission rates — that are scheduled to reopen before Aug. 24.

Those schools should open under a distance education model, “with possible limited exception for students significantly impacted by loss of in-person instruction,” Feiden wrote in the memo.

Schools should continue to operate under distance education through at least Aug. 21, according to the memo.

“This will allow schools to monitor the newly released data and criteria and review updated guidance expected to be released by local health districts in order to potentially prepare for a hybrid or in-person opening with a more complete understanding of the local circumstances,” it said.

The memo doesn’t include a list of affected schools. But Feiden told the Review-Journal on Tuesday that two school campuses were slated to open last week — both with virtual-only plans in place — followed by 19 school campuses this week and 19 next week.

Generally, the response from schools is they’re planning to follow the recommendation, Feiden told the Review-Journal on Tuesday.

As additional information is released in the coming weeks, the recommendation may be extended or changed, Feiden wrote in the memo.

The recommendation is specifically from Feiden — not the charter authority’s board of directors. The board is slated to meet at 9 a.m. Friday to have further conversation about school reopening plans and may issue additional guidance, Feiden said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the state will implement a “county-level approach to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 that will rely on weekly, county-level data used to identify counties with elevated diseases transmission,” Feiden wrote in the memo. “In addition, the Washoe County and Southern Nevada Health Districts have been developing outbreak response plans, specific to the school-setting that are expected to be released in the coming weeks.”

In June, the charter authority’s board decided each individual school it sponsors would develop its own reopening plan.

Each school was required to present a plan to its governing body no later than 20 days before the first day of school. Plans were submitted to the charter authority and then the Nevada Department of Education.

Many public charter schools were originally planning to use a hybrid format for the upcoming school year and offer a full-time distance option for families. The Clark County School District will start its school year Aug. 24 with distance learning.

School plans

Somerset Academy — which has seven campuses and more than 9,700 students — will start the new school year on Aug. 17 with nine weeks of remote instruction.

The board voted July 20 to start the school year fully remotely, Somerset’s lead principal, Elaine Kelley, said in a Tuesday email. “Since Somerset has already made the decision to open all virtual, we are essentially already following (the charger authority’s) recommendation.”

In mid-July, Somerset school principals sent a letter to parents with details about reopening proposals. Initially, each campus created its own reopening plan, but many were similar.

Original plans called for elementary schoolers to be broken into cohorts — each of which would attend a three-hour session, either in the morning or afternoon, Mondays through Fridays, according to the letter. Students were also slated to have assigned online learning.

For Somerset middle and high schoolers, approaches were slated to vary depending on the campus.

Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas, which has six campuses and about 3,750 students, is moving to a distance learning model for the first quarter of the school year. The first day of school is Aug. 24.

Executive director and CEO Ercan Aydogdu said in a Tuesday statement that the decision wasn’t made lightly and involved “extensive, careful deliberations,” including factoring in Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directives, input from the charter authority and advice from medical and science experts.

“We are dealing with an unprecedented situation, and our board took action to serve the best interests of all concerned,” Aydogdu said. “We will review and make further adjustments as we begin the year, adhering to state guidelines. We look forward to the first day of school on Aug. 24 and to a bright year with our students.”

Doral Academy, Pinecrest Academy, Mater Academy, and Sports Leadership and Management Academy are also among other Las Vegas-area charter schools that will start a new school year virtually.

Pinecrest will go virtual for the first 30 days and reassess after that. SLAM Academy, which starts Aug. 17, will go virtual for the first nine weeks.

Discovery Charter Schools is currently operating under 100 percent distance learning and is awaiting further guidance from the charter authority, Principal Tricia Wilbourne said Tuesday.

Letter to parents

A letter to the parents on the school’s website states distance learning began Monday.

“The State Public Charter School Authority is recommending this change due to the positive number of COVID cases in Clark County,” the school wrote. “In addition, public schools can now be held liable for COVID transmissions. We know this interrupts your family life and work life and we will reopen as soon as we are advised to do so.”

The school’s board of trustees will re-evaluate after Aug. 24 and will review guidance from the charter authority, according to the letter.

Nevada State High School, which has eight campuses, was already planning to offer completely remote instruction to begin the school year.

A new school year begins Wednesday for Legacy Traditional School, which has more than 4,500 students at three Las Vegas Valley campuses. Everyone will be fully online until Aug. 24, according to the school’s website.

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

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Nevada awards $11M in distance learning grants

The Nevada Department of Education announced $11 million in grants for services related to distance learning funded through the federal CARES Act.

In rural Nevada, tech challenges disrupt distance learning

Since school started Aug. 24, some children have been sitting outside the Indian Springs Library or near the school in 100-degree-plus weather trying to find a more reliable internet signal.

CCSD enrollment shrinks by 10K amid distance learning

The official count of students impacts the district’s per-pupil funding allocation, and will be translated to the school level as the budgeting process begins this week.

President rebukes partygoers as UNR nears 100 COVID-19 cases

In a message on UNR’s website, President Marc Johnson issued a stern warning about students partying off campus without practicing social distancing or wearing masks.