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State approves CCSD’s distance learning plan, won’t require makeup days

Updated March 27, 2020 - 6:48 pm

The Clark County School District will not have to make up days missed due to school closures over the summer after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert approved the district’s distance learning plan, which will include a massive expansion of the district’s Chromebook program.

CCSD submitted the learning plan Monday, according to Superintendent Jesus Jara, the day after a deadline set by Ebert.

Jara told the School Board early that same day that he could not submit a distance learning plan in response to a directive from Ebert because he could not guarantee that the district could deliver a quality education to all of its 320,000 students due to unequal access to technology.

On Friday, Jara said he had been in conversation with Ebert throughout the week to finalize the wording on the plan. But he said the district has been moving forward since Monday, including directing teachers to contact CCSD students with information about learning opportunities and food distribution sites.

Nevada Department of Education spokesman Greg Bortolin said the district’s plan conforms to the requirements set forth by the Nevada Department of Education in accordance with an emergency directive from Gov. Steve Sisolak. Ebert approved it Friday, he said.

Bortolin said the precise implementation of distance education, and whether it relies primarily on lesson packets or online learning, is up to each district, but because CCSD began implementing its plan on Monday, it will not need to make up days in the summer because of the school closures.

More Chromebooks planned

The district is now pushing to get Chromebooks in the hands of more students.

Jara on Monday estimated that approximately 120,000 CCSD students wouldn’t be able to access online learning, meaning the district would have to bear considerable expense printing lessons and distributing them.

“This pandemic will make us think about how we teach school in the near future,” Jara said at the time. “For our children in the most vulnerable states, the education gap is going to get bigger.”

But he said Friday that the district had reallocated funds to purchase approximately 46,000 Chromebooks and is turning to a partnership with the nonprofit Public Education Foundation to raise funds for another 74,000 of the devices through private parties.

Combined with the district’s existing 200,000 Chromebooks, that would result in a 1:1 ratio of students to devices, though not every student would necessarily take one home, Jara said. Instead the devices would be deployed to underserved students, he said.

A letter sent to approximately 3,000 business groups on the district’s behalf seeks donations that would go to purchasing Chromebooks for CCSD, said John Guedry, CEO of the Bank of Nevada and vice chairman of the board of the Public Education Foundation.

Guedry said the nonprofit also is seeking donated expertise in order to help the district quickly process the devices so they can be distributed to students.

Henderson Mayor Debra March said the city has also committed $200,000 to the cause.

“It’s something that the community should really be proud of,” she said. “The community has really leaned in during this time of need.”

Spring Valley pioneers

Spring Valley High in Las Vegas on Friday became the first CCSD school to hand out Chromebooks to students who need them to keep up academically during school closures.

The school is piloting the program expected to roll out at Clark High and Valley High next week. It provides students with a Chromebook, charger and a list of free or reduced-price internet resources, including through Spectrum, CenturyLink and Cox.

The program is giving priority to seniors with the goal of keeping them on track for graduation. Credit-deficient seniors also will be able to continue their work on Apex, the district’s credit recovery program.

“Any barriers we can solve that are surmountable, we’re going to do that,” Spring Valley High Principal Tam Larnerd said.

The school has been ready to give out Chromebooks since before the closures were announced but recently received the go-ahead from district leadership, Larnerd said.

The school has 2,100 Chromebooks available to cover nearly the entire 2,500-strong student body if needed, but so far just 46 students have expressed interest.

As a precautionary measure, Spring Valley staff wore gloves and masks to hand out the computers, with school nurse Jill Smith taking their temperatures beforehand.

Interested Spring Valley students may make an appointment for Monday to pick up a Chromebook.

Independent fundraising

Another community group has tried to raise money for Chromebooks for Clark County students independently.

Chris Davin of Equality Nevada said he started a Facebook fundraiser after hearing about the digital divide at CCSD schools, and was surprised to raise over $700 in about 12 hours.

As a nonprofit, he said he can get Chromebooks at a special rate of about $55 each, adding that he’d like to raise about $5,500 to provide them to students in need.

Davin said he has been lending them out to students referred to his group by their teachers, who often know which students are in the most need.

“Without Chromebooks, they don’t get the one-on-one instruction,” Davin said. “They’re falling behind every day.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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