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Las Vegas private schools planning to return to classroom

Updated July 17, 2020 - 2:40 pm

As the Clark County School District prepares to deliver a “blended” education of classroom and distance learning in the fall, many Las Vegas-area private schools are planning to return to the classroom full time.

The private schools, which don’t receive state funding and typically have smaller classes, say they have enough space to maintain social distancing during five-day-a-week instruction.

They’re also planning to take precautions such as temperature checks when students and employees arrive each day, intensive cleaning, student hand-washing sessions, keeping grade-level cohorts of students together, staggering passing periods and having one-way traffic flow in hallways.

“It’s definitely more beneficial for students to come back and be working with a teacher, not behind a computer,” said Roxanne Stansbury, head of school for the Alexander Dawson School in Summerlin.

The school, which has about 500 students in preschool through eighth grade, plans to hold in-person classes. It also will offer a full-time distance learning option, but only about 5 percent of families have expressed interest in it, officials said.

Remote options offered

As for local public charter schools, most are planning a mix of in-person and remote learning, plus a full-time remote option for families.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a directive June 9 requiring school districts, charter schools and private schools to develop reopening plans for the upcoming school year.

Related: Remote learning can be done well, education experts say

Private schools are required to follow reopening guidelines but don’t necessarily have to submit their reopening plan to the state, Nevada Department of Education spokeswoman Terri Hendry said.

For the Clark County School District, its hybrid model calls for cohorts of students to attend classes two days a week in person and work remotely three days a week. The district also will have a full-time distance learning option.

The School Board approved the reopening plan July 9, but the format that classes take in the upcoming school year, which will have a delayed start date of Aug. 24, will depend on factors such as COVID-19 statistics and the outcome of the special legislative session in terms of education funding. The Clark County School Board is slated to meet again Tuesday to discuss the preparations.

Some private schools are seeing an increase in inquiries from public school parents who want their children to have full-time in-person classes.

Lake Mead Christian Academy in Henderson, which has about 650 students in kindergarten through 12th grade and plans to offer full-time in-person classes for the upcoming school year, saw a “very strong uptick” when the Clark County School District began to discuss its reopening plan, founder and administrator Sue Blakeley said.

Blakeley said she doesn’t have specific numbers readily available for how many new families have enrolled, but a few grade levels are full.

“We realize that we as a private school have opportunities that the public school doesn’t have just because of the number of students the public school is required to educate,” she said. CCSD has about 325,000 students.

Blakeley, who founded Lake Mead Christian Academy about 30 years ago, said there aren’t many private schools in the Las Vegas Valley, considering the population and number of schoolchildren.

Private schools had a limited number of open slots to begin with, and now they’re particularly strained since they can only operate at 50 percent capacity in classrooms, she said.

Parent perspectives

With so much uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming school year, parents are grappling with tough and complex decisions about their children’s education.

Christina Bentheim, a Clark County School District middle school assistant principal who was previously at Clark High School, said she and her husband pulled their 5-year-old son out of his public school and enrolled him at a private school.

Their son, who previously attended Antonello Elementary School in North Las Vegas, will start Aug. 12 at Lamb of God Lutheran School in Las Vegas.

“Our No. 1 concern was, of course, his health and safety,” Bentheim said.

Their second concern was child care. Because both she and her husband are Clark County School District employees, they’ll be working five days a week and don’t know where their son would go on distance learning days.

Since their son can’t stay at home by himself, they would have to find child care for him, creating another environment in which he could be exposed to COVID-19, Bentheim said. So they thought it would be safer to put him in a smaller private school.

They looked into Lamb of God Lutheran School because they had a connection through a former church.

The school had an opening and got him signed up “super quick,” Bentheim said. Her son will have 13 children in his class and will attend full time unless there’s another closure because of the pandemic.

“Teachers there are excellent,” Bentheim said. “I have complete confidence also in their school safety measures.”

Bentheim, who works at a one-star, high-needs school, said she and her husband plan to return their son to a public school once the pandemic has passed. She said she truly believes in the public school system and has dedicated her career to it.

‘It broke my heart’

“It broke my heart to even really think through and make this transition for him,” Bentheim said.

But she added that she also has to do what’s in her son’s best interests.

The hardest part of the decision, she said, was “the fact that my platform as a school leader has always been a champion for the underdog and equity for children who don’t have appropriate access to school and the resources they need.”

Tens of thousands of local parents can’t afford to put their children in private school, Bentheim said, noting that the pandemic is widening the equity gap.

Las Vegas parent Stacey Hatfield is having her son, who’s going into fifth grade, transition from a private school to a Clark County School District magnet school, Hoggard Elementary, for the upcoming school year. Her daughter already attends a magnet school.

She was considering a change even prior to the outbreak. The private school her son attended, which she declined to name, had a curriculum that wasn’t challenging for him anymore, she said, and a magnet school with a math and science focus was a better fit.

The economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak also played a role, Hatfield said. She works for the state, and her husband has a small business, making them wonder whether they could continue to afford private school tuition.

Hatfield said she’s allowed to work from home, so she can supervise her children on distance learning days.

Chuck Badger and his wife filled out an application for Lake Mead Christian Academy for their daughter, who’s in second grade, and she was accepted. But ultimately, they decided to keep her at McCaw STEAM Academy, a magnet school in downtown Henderson.

The decision to apply to a private school was their “reaction to the proposal by the (CCSD) School Board,” Badger said. “Our knee-jerk to it was incredibly negative. I can’t deny that.”

He said his daughter has attended McCaw for only one year but has flourished in the program. And they found out that if they pulled her from the school, she wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot there in the future.

Badger said private school tuition was a factor in their decision as well. While they could afford it, it was a cost for which they hadn’t budgeted. He said he started thinking about all the ways they could invest in their daughter and nurture her interests outside school instead.

Both Badger and his wife are sports chiropractors and own their own business. And their daughter’s grandparents live locally and are retired teachers, so they can help out on distance learning days.

Private school reopening plans

While many private schools are planning to offer full-time in-person instruction, it comes with a hefty price tag for parents — one that many can’t afford even though the schools offer financial assistance.

For example, tuition at The Alexander Dawson School ranges from $13,380 for half-day preschool to $26,260 for fifth through eighth grades.

The Meadows School in Summerlin, which has about 850 students in preschool through 12th grades, has developed four models for reopening in August: in-person, cohort schedule, hybrid and online.

“The Meadows School will continue to prioritize in-person educational experiences wherever possible,” its reopening plan stated, while acknowledging that the lack of a vaccine, the possibility of several waves of infection and the need for social distancing all could call such an approach into question.

“I think it’s really important to remember that everything is so fluid right now,” head of school Jeremy Gregersen said Tuesday, noting he can’t commit to anything yet.

If families aren’t comfortable with in-person instruction, the school will offer a distance learning option, he said.

Tuition ranges from $10,900 for half-day preschool to $28,360 for high school grades.

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

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