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Charter authority allows in-person classes for 3 Washoe schools

Updated August 28, 2020 - 4:49 pm

Three public charter schools in Washoe County are being allowed to offer in-person classes, despite a mandate requiring distance education only.

This month, the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority board approved a mandate — which went into effect Monday — saying schools in counties with a heightened level of virus transmission will be required to start the school year with distance education for at least 75 percent of their students.

Four counties — Clark, Washoe, Elko and Churchill — have SPCSA-sponsored charter schools under heightened mitigation. White Pine County is at baseline mitigation and schools can operate in person or under a hybrid model.

During a Friday meeting, SPCSA executive director Rebecca Feiden told the board she granted exemptions to the mandate to allow three Washoe County charter schools to operate with in-person instruction.

Exemptions were granted based on factors such as a school’s wishes to provide opportunities comparable to the Washoe County School District and the ability to offer ample building capacity, she said.

Charter authority spokesman Danny Peltier told the Review-Journal that the schools are Pinecrest Academy of Northern Nevada, Mater Academy of Northern Nevada and Doral Academy of Northern Nevada.

During a meeting this month, the authority board heard 1½ hours of public comment — largely, from parents and school leaders in Northern Nevada expressing concern about schools losing enrollment to the Washoe County School District and suffering a financial impact.

The exemptions are contingent upon the Reno-area school district’s current model — full-time on-campus instruction at elementary schools and a hybrid model for middle and high schools — remaining in place.

The Washoe County School District has canceled school a couple of times — including the first day of school Aug. 17 — because of poor air quality. And classes were held via distance learning Friday.

During Friday’s meeting, the SPCSA board also heard an update on distance learning technology needs but didn’t take action.

The charter authority-sponsored schools — which serve more than 50,000 students — deployed approximately 1,000 mobile hot spots this week to students who needed internet access, Feiden said. But about 172 students are still lacking internet connectivity.

And 1,350 students don’t have consistent access to a computing device, Feiden said, noting in many of those cases, students are sharing a device with a sibling.

Schools have indicated about half of those needed devices are on back order, she said. “There are some continued supply chain issues.”

During the meeting, the authority board also:

— Voted to terminate receivership for Quest Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas, effective Oct. 15, and reconstitute the academy’s school board.

“Quest Preparatory Academy has been in Receivership due to the severe financial and organizational mismanagement of the prior Board since 2015,” according to meeting materials.

— Approved a request by Freedom Classical Academy in North Las Vegas to buy its current facility, which it has leased since 2017. Total projected bond costs are approximately $23 million.

— Approved changes to Amplus Academy Las Vegas’ curriculum, operations and finances for this school year.

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

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