While Washoe County School District students have been on spring break, teachers, administrators and print shop staff have been putting together thousands of distance learning packets in preparation for the first day back.
“We’ve been working 15-, 16-hour days to make this happen,” said Debra Biersdorff, the district’s chief academic officer.
All learning materials for high school, middle school and elementary grades have been posted online since Gov. Steve Sisolak’s March 15 order closing the state’s public, private and charter schools, Biersdorff said. But to reach students who don’t have a computer or an internet connection, the district is printing packets and then distributing them via school buses.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey indicates that about 5 percent of households in the WCSD don’t have a computer, tablet or smartphone, and 11 percent don’t have an internet subscription, with the numbers ranging higher in low-income households.
That’s why all the online learning materials, including any linked assignments, will be available as printouts, Biersdorff said. The district plans to print 7,000 high school packets alone.
Packet delivery will start this Friday and Saturday and continue on Monday and Tuesday along district bus routes, Biersdorff said, with an additional schedule forthcoming. Families can go to any bus stop to pick up materials for all grade levels.
The district is taking two professional days to get teachers up to speed on Monday and Tuesday and expects distance learning to begin for students on April 1, though the assignments won’t count toward their grades.
The packets will cover learning until school buildings are scheduled to reopen on April 16. If closures continue beyond that date, staff will meet again to determine the best course of action, Biersdorff said.
Biersdorff credits WCSD staff with putting in long hours to come up with a learning plan, adding that the district benefited from a two-week spring break that gave it a buffer to make arrangements.
She said it’s difficult to compare Washoe schools to others across the state that face different challenges, such as those in rural areas whose students may be spread far and wide, or mostly urban Clark County.
CCSD has made voluntary learning packets available online and at food distribution pickups. The district is not currently delivering packets, though the idea was floated Monday at an emergency meeting of the Board of Trustees.
“Would we have been able to get this done without that break? I think we would have risen to the challenge,” Biersdorff said. “But maybe the packets that went out at first wouldn’t have the same level of depth.”