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Some Las Vegas charter schools switch back to distance learning

Updated December 1, 2020 - 5:52 pm

Some Las Vegas-area public charter schools switched back to 100 percent distance learning Monday following Thanksgiving break — a change expected to last a week or longer.

The move comes as schools take precautions following the holiday weekend — when some students and employees may have traveled — and amid an elevated rate of COVID-19 transmission in Clark County, statewide and nationwide.

Schools operating under fully distance education temporarily include Mater Academy, Doral Academy, about half of Pinecrest Academy’s campuses and one Somerset Academy campus. Some are hoping to switch back to a hybrid model — a mix of in-person and remote instruction — next week.

Many local public charter schools began the school year with distance learning, but welcomed some students back to campuses under a hybrid model when the second quarter of the school year started in October. Many are using half-day in-person sessions or alternating which days cohorts of students come to campus. And parents have the option of having their child stay in fully distance learning.

In a letter posted last week on Doral Academy-Fire Mesa’s website, Principal Kelly Gerdes wrote that distance learning will continue until winter break begins Dec. 19.

“Our tentative plan is to have students back in the building again in January after the break, depending on the COVID rates in our community at that time,” she wrote. “We will continue to monitor positivity rates in our community and keep you updated.”

Doral Academy has seen a minimal number of coronavirus cases among students and employees since the school year began, Gerdes wrote, but has recently seen an uptick.

Due to the elevated rate of COVID-19 cases in Clark County — plus the holiday break and flu season — school officials believe the safest decision is to temporarily transition students to fully virtual instruction, Gerdes wrote.

Sports Leadership and Management of Nevada in Henderson, which offered some in-person classes under a hybrid model, transitioned back to fully distance learning last month. Students are returning to some in-person classes Dec. 7.

And Legacy Traditional School — Southwest Las Vegas temporarily closed its campus last month for at least 10 days due to “a handful” of COVID-19 cases. All three Las Vegas Valley Legacy campuses resumed classes Tuesday after Thanksgiving break under a blended learning model with no more than 40 percent of students on campus.

A couple of private schools that have been operating with full-time in-person classes this school year — including The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus and Bishop Gorman High School — are also temporarily using 100 percent distance education for all or part of this week.

The Adelson campus is using distance learning for two days directly following Thanksgiving and winter breaks. And Bishop Gorman is going virtual this week, with in-person learning resuming Dec. 7.

Charter schools continuing with hybrid model

Post-Thanksgiving break, some local charter schools — including Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas and six of seven Somerset Academy campuses — are continuing with a hybrid model.

Somerset Lead Principal Lee Esplin wrote in a Monday email to the Review-Journal: “We are continuing as we have been.”

Somerset’s Skye Canyon campus, though, is going virtual this week. Principal Kate Lackey said Monday the school has seen a few COVID-19 cases among students and teachers.

She said the campus is closed this week due to the number of employees out due to COVID-19 exposure, a positive test result or because their own children were exposed and needed to stay home. “We hope to be back to normal next week, as the staff who are quarantined can return at that time.”

In August, the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board approved a distance learning mandate, saying schools in counties with an elevated level of COVID-19 transmission — including Clark County — could provide in-person instruction for up to 25 percent of their students. Last month, the board relaxed the requirement further, allowing schools to bring up to 40 percent of their students on campus at any given time.

The board meets virtually at 2 p.m. Friday and will hear an update on in-person learning amid the pandemic, but the agenda item is labeled for discussion only.

Each school system — such as Somerset or Pinecrest — has a school board that makes decisions about whether to continue to offer in-person classes or operate under only distance education, but must comply with state requirements. And sometimes, operations can vary at individual campuses within the same system.

The Clark County School District has operated under fully distance learning since school started in mid-August — a format that will continue through the end of the semester.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, founders of the Adelson Educational Campus.

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

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