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Nevada charter schools to set own mask policies

Nevada’s public charter schools will decide independently whether to require young students to wear face masks, but must comply with state rules.

The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board heard an update Friday on school reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but didn’t vote on any changes.

Authority Executive Director Rebecca Feiden said she expects most, if not all, schools to operate with in-person classes.

Schools have reopening plans that include multiple strategies for ensuring school buildings are safe, she said, also noting coronavirus case numbers and test positivity rates have increased in many areas of the state. “Certainly, this is an evolving landscape,” Feiden added.

The charter authority, which oversees nearly 70 campuses and more than 53,000 students, has recommended that schools follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Last week, the CDC issued a recommendation that kindergarten through 12th-grade school students and school employees — regardless of vaccination status — wear a mask at school.

The state’s public charter schools also are required to comply with the state’s mask mandate that went into effect Friday. It applies to public indoor settings in counties with high levels of COVID-19 transmission, but doesn’t include children 9 or younger.

The Clark and Washoe county school districts are requiring students and employees to wear masks indoors and on school buses for the upcoming school year.

As for distance education, public charter schools are required by the state at minimum to provide the format for students who have a medical condition that prohibits them from safely participating in in-person classes or who are required to quarantine.

Schools have the flexibility to offer distance education more broadly if they’d like, Feiden said.

Schools also have discretion about how to offer distance education, whether through having students tune in live to their classes via video conferencing or do work online.

In reopening plans, schools were required to include a strategy for how they’d handle a switch to distance learning, if needed, due to the pandemic, said board chair Melissa Mackedon.

Schools will have a few options for COVID-19 testing and the charter authority is working with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services on that effort.

Options will include rapid antigen testing schools can conduct on-site if they’ve gone through the certification process, Feiden said, or to refer families to local places conducting testing.

A relatively new opportunity will be mobile testing units that can be sent out to schools, Feiden said.

The board received six written public comments and several in-person in Las Vegas from people opposed to a mask mandate for children.

Mackedon said she wants the public to understand the charter authority is not the Clark County School District and each charter school has its own board that makes decisions.

During their meeting, the board also:

— Heard an update on nine applications from new prospective schools seeking to open for the 2022-23 school year.

Eight want to operate in Clark County and one wants to open in Washoe County. Among them is the City of Las Vegas’ Strong Start Academy Elementary School.

— Approved a request from TEACH Las Vegas to reduce its enrollment cap from 325 to 150 students in order to sublease a portion of its building to Explore Academy.

TEACH Las Vegas will also delay offering student transportation until the 2022-23 school year.

— Approved a request from Girls Athletic Leadership School Las Vegas (GALS) to remain at its current location for the beginning of the school year due to permitting delays with its permanent facility onSouth Maryland Parkway.

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

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