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Some Las Vegas-area charter schools to reopen to handful of students

Some Clark County public charter schools are bringing back up to 25 percent of their students for in-person classes starting this month.

In many cases, it will be the first time students will be in classrooms since the switch to distance learning in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the schools reopening will offer a hybrid model — a mix of in-person and remote instruction — or half-day sessions, with the option for families to continue with distance learning.

Somerset Academy, which has seven campuses in the Las Vegas Valley and more than 9,700 students, plans to bring some students back for in-person classes starting this week.

“I would say that teachers are very excited to have kids back,” Somerset’s lead principal, Lee Esplin, said, adding that he hopes Somerset campuses will be able to bring all students back in the near future.

In mid-August, the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board approved a mandate saying schools in counties with an elevated level of COVID-19 transmission — including Clark County — were required to start the school year with distance education for at least 75 percent of their students. It essentially reversed a June decision that allowed each school to create its own reopening plan.

Until recently, the majority of Las Vegas-area public charter schools offered fully distance learning for all students. But now, as the second quarter of the school year begins, more campuses are shifting toward offering in-person instruction for some students.

Most schools are targeting high-need groups, such as students in special education, English language learner programs and in pivotal grade levels such as the youngest elementary grades or sixth graders who are adjusting to middle school.

That’s true at Somerset campuses, where schools are focusing primarily on bringing back the youngest elementary schoolers and children who are struggling, said Esplin, who also is principal at Somerset’s Sky Pointe campus in northwest Las Vegas.

Elementary schoolers “tend to be the ones who have the hardest time learning virtually, especially kindergarteners, because they need a lot more support,” he said.

Next week’s reopening plans vary by Somerset campus — dictated based on results of parent surveys — but most are using an A/B cohort system, with each group of students attending in-person classes either in the morning or afternoon.

Families will be given the option of continuing with distance education if they wish.

Shifting to in-person classes

The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board — which oversees schools serving about 50,000 students statewide — may consider revisiting its distance learning mandate in November, officials said during an Oct. 2 board meeting. And if Clark County returns to baseline mitigation based on the state’s COVID-19 data, schools will be allowed to offer hybrid or full-time in-person classes for their entire student body.

The authority hasn’t granted any exemptions to its distance learning mandate in Clark County, executive director Rebecca Feiden said during the board meeting. But 19 of 55 campuses in Clark County are providing some in-person instruction, as of earlier this month, and more have joined the ranks since then.

Feiden said if the COVID-19 situation continues to improve, she may consider granting exemptions in Clark County. That may start with schools that already have some students on campus.

The authority has granted six exemptions to the distance learning mandate thus far — all in Washoe and Churchill counties — which allow schools to bring up to 40 percent of their students back on campus.

The Clark County School District — which has about 307,000 students and is operating under fully distance education — gave its board an update Thursday on COVID-19 conditions. The board could possibly vote Oct. 22 on reopening schools if public health conditions and case numbers allow.

What schools are planning

Legacy Traditional School, which has more than 4,500 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at three Las Vegas Valley campuses, brought small groups of students back to campus starting in early September for tutoring, interventions and instruction.

“Students at risk of falling behind academically and who meet certain criteria were eligible to return during that time,” the school system said in a statement to the Review-Journal.

Kindergarten and first-grade students are attending in-person classes at Legacy’s Cadence campus in Henderson. And this week, Legacy’s southwest Las Vegas and North Las Vegas campuses plan to bring back kindergarten and first-grade students.

The school is using a hybrid model in which “red track” students attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays, and “blue track” students attend in-person Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students receive online instruction on the days they’re not on campus.

While on campus, “students are expected to wear a face-covering at all times unless they are eating or drinking, and social distancing and safety guidelines are followed at all times,” the school said in the statement.

Signature Preparatory in Henderson brought its kindergartners back to campus Oct. 5 for in-person classes, and first and sixth graders will return this Monday.

Students in those grade levels will be under an AM/PM half-day model five days a week, according to an announcement on the school’s website. First and sixth graders can continue with distance education if their families choose.

Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas, which has six campuses and about 3,750 students, plans to continue with distance education, executive director Ercan Aydogdu said in a statement to the Review-Journal.

But the school system plans to provide a limited in-person learning pilot program — a half-day model — for kindergarten and first grade students at the Tamarus and Nellis campuses during the next quarter. “We have listened to and understand concerns received from our students, parents and teachers,” Aydogdu said. “We will continue to evaluate our efforts on a daily basis.”

Sports Leadership and Management Academy of Nevada — also in Henderson — plans to bring sixth grade students, 12th grade students who haven’t already opted for the distance-education-only cohort, English language learners, Individualized Education Program/504 students and students with connectivity issues back to campus when a new quarter starts Monday.

Those classes will operate under the school’s previously approved hybrid model and up to 25 percent of its enrolled students will be in the building on any given day.

Mater Academy — which has three campuses in Las Vegas — will open to 25 percent of students but will focus on high-need populations such as those in special education or are English language learners.

And Pinecrest Academy, which has five campuses in the south valley, plans to operate at 25 percent for its elementary schools.

For Somerset Academy campuses, school employees are “looking at everything” in preparation for bringing students for in-person classes, Esplin said. That includes drop off and pick up procedures, filtering students through more school entrances, communicating to parents about keeping their children home if they’re experiencing signs of illness, looking at cleaning procedures, and ensuring social distancing and mask wearing.

“All of the things you’d do in the normal day, you have to relook at them to make sure you’re keeping staff and kids safe,” Esplin said.

At the Skye Pointe campus — which serves kindergarten through 12th grade students — some students will return to campus Tuesday.

Each of the elementary school grades will have one or more virtual teachers based on how many parents indicated on a survey they’d prefer distance learning. The exception is third-grade, where teachers will manage students both virtually and in person at the same time.

Teachers at the Skye Pointe campus have already been teaching virtually from their classrooms, Esplin said, unless they have an exemption due to a health condition. “For them, it’s not really a transition. They’re already there.”

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

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