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VICTOR JOECKS: CCSD’s reopening plan would increase educational disparities

If Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara gets his way, it’ll be harder for children to go to a school building than for a tourist to gamble in a casino.

Earlier this week, Jara released his plan to get students back into the classroom next school year. He wants to split classes into two groups. One group would physically go to school on Monday and Tuesday. The other half would attend in-person classes on Thursday and Friday. The students would learn online for the days they are at home. There would also be an online- only option for families who prefer that.

This plan should be a non-starter for elementary school students. It’s hard to get 6-year-olds to focus in a classroom. Put them on a computer, and most of them aren’t going to learn much of anything. They need in-person supervision, instruction and feedback — all the things a teacher does in her class dozens of times a day.

The only way this blended learning model will work consistently is if there’s a parent or another adult at home helping the elementary-age child. That can work very well. It’s called home schooling. Thousands of families do it successfully every year.

But enrolling in a district school means parents don’t want to home-school. In some cases, both parents or a single parent must work.

Generally, children from wealthier families already do better at school. It’s easy to see how this proposal would increase the disparity. A middle-class or wealthy family is more likely to be able to afford to have one parent stay home, work part time or telecommute. This would allow their child to receive the individualized attention he or she would need to make online learning work.

A low-income family usually doesn’t have that luxury. That means low-income students will fall further behind academically. Without a solid foundation in reading and math, low-income students will struggle to catch up to their peers.

This wouldn’t be as big of a concern if the district routinely held back students who weren’t performing at grade level. But it doesn’t. Instead, floundering students are pushed into the next grade despite not being ready to do the work at the next level.

All of this could be justified if the coronavirus presented a significant threat to children. It doesn’t. As of Wednesday, only 28 children under 14 have died from the disease. That’s in the entire country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of course, every one of those deaths was a tragedy. But consider the context. Using mathematical models, the CDC estimates that almost 600 children died from the flu during the 2017-2018 influenza season.

Reopening schools can be done safely. Denmark and Norway successfully did it in mid-April. For the sake of the children, the Clark County School District needs to learn from them and follow suit.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 3 p.m. with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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