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CCSD reopening plan OK’d, but fall session awash in uncertainties

Updated July 10, 2020 - 8:34 pm

While the Clark County School District’s school reopening plan won approval from trustees on Thursday, the format school will take beginning next month remains at the mercy of COVID-19, the state Legislature and the trustees themselves.

Trustees gave their unanimous approval to allow the district to submit its plan to the Nevada Department of Education well before a July 21 deadline and move forward with surveying parents about their preferences and logistical needs under the proposed blended-learning model.

But they included a big caveat: Additional details on the plan to have students split their weeks between at-home and in-classroom learning must come back before the board after the plan receives state approval.

CCSD was required to submit a plan to the state that would account for three different scenarios: distance or remote learning only, a return to classes in schools and the blended-learning option. Under the latter, the district has said students would attend school in-person for two days a week and engage in distance learning for three days a week on a cohort-based schedule, with a third cohort available for students who choose distance learning only.

After trustees expressed hesitation with the blended-learning model, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district’s recommendations were only a framework that needed to be submitted to the state for the district to start moving toward reopening schools. What classes will look like will depend on several actors outside of the district’s control, Jara said, including the status of the COVID-19 outbreak in the state and whether the special session of the state Legislature makes any cuts to K-12 education.

“We may be at distance education come Aug. 10 depending on what cases are looking like, depending on what this community is looking like,” Jara said. “But we have to start moving the ball down the goal line to get us to a position where we can start in one of these three (plans).”

What comes next

In a virtual news briefing Friday, Jara said that while he expects the cohort structure of the reopening plan to remain in place, families’ interest in distance education could decide whether a five-day option is available to other students. Such details will go before the board if the district’s plan wins approval from the state, he said.

Asked to predict what the start of school will look like, Jara said that with COVID-19 numbers on the rise and new restrictions announced on bars by Gov. Steve Sisolak on Thursday, it’s difficult to imagine a five-day return to schools for all students.

Jara said a survey to gauge families’ interest in different education options would be sent on Friday.

The survey, posted on the district’s website, asks parents and guardians to choose their cohort preference and indicate if they need transportation services this year. It also asks if students have access to internet and computers or other connected devices in the home and how comfortable they feel using technology to access digital learning materials.

Employees will receive a separate survey in the near future, Jara said.

Apart from filling out the surveys, Jara encouraged families to access summer learning materials and employees to participate in professional development to prepare for the next year.

One other major unknown hanging over the reopening plan is the special session of the Legislature, which propose three major cuts that would affect CCSD: class-size reduction money, Read by Grade 3 program money and SB178 money dedicated to low-income and English learner students.

While those cuts will hurt the most vulnerable students at the district, they are manageable, Jara said. If additional cuts are made, however, the district may have to return to full-time distance learning for all students, he said.

‘Not a scare tactic’

“It’s not a scare tactic, but a reality,” Jara said.

The district’s presentation to the board Thursday elaborated on how schools would allocate staff to in-person cohorts versus virtual cohorts: If at least 20 percent of students at a school choose distance learning, dedicated teachers could be assigned to the online-only cohort. If more students choose that option, more staff could be dedicated to them.

But trustees also received several new options in the final draft of the plan because of community feedback, including the chance to offer a traditional, yearlong schedule to secondary students instead of the semester-based classes initially recommended. Trustees did not take up the alternatives at the meeting.

CCSD staff, including Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell, still recommended the semester-based option that would see students take four condensed courses per semester to increase instructional time and limit passing periods.

But performing arts, advanced placement and International Baccalaureate teachers have raised the alarm that a four-course, semester-based schedule would limit students from pursuing or completing these programs.

Tony Gebbia, IB coordinator at Spring Valley High, said the proposed schedule probably would cut short the plans of more than 1,000 IB juniors and seniors who must take two-year courses in their final years of the program.

“They’ll have lost so many hours, they’ll never catch up,” Gebbia said.

International programs

IB teachers, meanwhile, would be faced with trying to fit two years of curricula into one semester while struggling to meet the principle of concurrency of learning integral to IB programs, Gebbia said.

Region 2 Superintendent Debbie Brockett acknowledged that the schedule presented a challenge to IB courses, but she said the district had been working with principals to create models that would allow schools to split the two-hour block into one-hour blocks to accommodate different programs.

Trustee Danielle Ford also offered a motion for a soft-opening model in which almost all students would do distance learning initially, with schools open for vulnerable students who need access to meals, internet and Chromebooks. But the motion was voted down.

Jara said that such a staggered start might be possible under the district’s current proposed plan but that it was critical to submit a framework to the Department of Education first before such details could be determined.

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

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