Carson City School District Superintendent Richard Stokes presented a draft plan from his Reopening Instructional Committee during Tuesday’s school board meeting that includes a hybrid model combining on-campus and distance learning for all levels.
According to Stokes, the district should be prepared for three scenarios, all of which are included in the draft plan and still being explored by the committee comprised of administrators, staff members, parents and community members.
The first is a 100 percent return to physical campuses and traditional academics and for which Stokes said everything is in place to carry out with the district’s departments and services.
“However … the United States seems to be going in a different direction and whether that’s even possible and whether we’re going to be doing that in the coming year, I don’t know,” he said.
The second option is a hybrid model, splitting school populations into two groups and having students spend two days on campus and three days at home varied by week. This for now seems to be the more likely situation, Stokes said, given parents want to keep their children at home due to health concerns surrounding pandemic-related issues.
The third choice is to move to a full distance learning setup led completely by CCSD’s teachers or to use Carson Online’s offerings should restrictions from the state government become overly restrictive.
There also was a new recommended start date pushing back the original planned start date from Aug. 17 to Aug. 24. This provides teachers with five days of additional professional development to adjust to the model being implemented for the new school year.
The plan drew multiple public comments and questions after Stokes’ presentation, running the gamut from the choice of the hybrid schedule to how schools would be sanitized on a regular basis. Parents and staff members called in or e-mailed district administrators asking them how they would equip teachers better for remote learning, ensure students would adhere to social distancing requirements on buses and encourage them to keep masks on at all times and assist special needs students or how to handle child care needs for working parents in a number of scenarios.
Questions were raised about maintaining or even raising the level of academic rigor students are expected to perform at if they were required to move to the hybrid or full remote learning models. Trustee Joe Cacioppo said he had been asked by teachers about how they would be evaluated if they weren’t allowed to spend physical time with their students on a daily basis or what knowledge or skills might be lost if students couldn’t complete certain assignments because they weren’t attending consecutive days.
The school district has been weighing its options and watching the state’s two larger districts, Washoe and Clark, in their recent plan developments. Last month, Gov. Steve Sisolak issued Executive Directive 022 mandating each school district to develop and provide a reopening plan for the 2020-21 year to the Nevada Department of Education. School districts must present such plans in public meetings at least 20 days before the first day of the school year, be approved by their school board and get certified by the NDE.
Terri Hendry, spokeswoman for the NDE, provided clarification on what districts are required to do in submitting their reopening plans to the state department, which is a certification, not an approval.
“NDE does not approve them,” Hendry said Thursday. “We are requiring them to submit them 20 days prior to the first day of school, and that’s to ensure they are conforming to the laws under bureaucracy.”
The certification process involves three documents Carson City School District and the state’s other school superintendents or heads of schools will be required to sign when they’ve made a final decision to implement a full-time or hybrid model of education for the 2020-21 school year.
The documentation provides checklists that guarantees districts will adhere to assisting quarantined students in need of technology, nutrition services, providing general updates to parents of English learners and students with individualized education programs or 504 plans, the use of Infinite Campus for maintaining contact with students and other specifications.
Hendry emphasized the intent of certifying rather than approving plans was to make sure local school boards kept the say for their own communities.
Stokes and board President Mike Walker emphasized information provided Tuesday night was preliminary and would continue to be updated before a final plan is presented at the July 28 meeting. Questions asked during this time also would be addressed at a later time, Walker said.
Stokes heeded the public it would be a topic for which there could be little agreement.
“There’s going to be some level of risk going back to school,” he said.
Trustee Richard Varner suggested holding a community forum to help answer many of the public’s questions on common questions about the plan after he had watched the Washoe County School District board hold its virtual summit Tuesday before Carson City’s board meeting.
“People are fearful for their finances, for their health and for that of their children,” he said. “Fear is huge. How do we protect everybody?”
Seeliger Elementary School teacher Jennifer Purcell asking about helping to keep items clean at home should distance learning be adopted.
“Teachers take a lot of material home to continue to work,” Purcell’s comment was read into the record. “Will there be any items to help keep teacher materials, laptops, teacher manuals, etc. clean such as Plexiglas around the teacher’s desk to keep those take-home items as clean as possible? Just a thought so I’m not bringing possible contaminants to my home or having the risks of bringing possible contaminants to my family?”
Should a community forum be held before July 28 and with more information provided by Sisolak or the NDE, continuous updates can impact the district’s ongoing work to solidify its reopening strategy.
The other trustees raised their own questions about some of the logistics and issues involved with reopening.
Trustee Laurel Crossman asked about obtaining plan approval from the NDE, how detailed it has to be and whether the department might change its policies on attendance if students miss too many days.
Parents who prefer not to send their children to school will have the option to enroll them in an online, fully remote learning program through Carson Online.
More details are expected to be released as the district hears from Sisolak and the NDE, Stokes and staff members said.
Walker reminded the public student and staff safety will continue to be the board’s main concern.
“Everywhere I go, the bottom line is, whatever your perspective is, school is going to look different this year,” Walker said. “Everybody’s going to be a little unhappy with what we’re required to do. Our most important priority is getting kids into school when it is safe to do so.”
The plan now returns for approval at the district’s July 28 meeting for final consideration.