LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- The Clark County School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to move forward with the full-time distance learning model for the start of the 2020-21 school year on Tuesday evening.
The 7-0 vote took place after more than three hours of discussion.
Several board members agreed the latest rise in COVID-19 cases in the county posed an unnecessary health risk for district students and staff should they return in person, though issues in the distance learning model needed to be addressed ahead of the school start.
Trustee Deanna Wright proposed a motion for full-time distance learning to open the school year, "foreseeably for the first semester," with updates every 30 days including a review of health data. They are to "make a determination with health officials as to where the pivot point of data is," Wright said.
Where applicable, rural schools can return to in-person hybrid instruction if they meet specific safety criteria, CCSD later said. The plan allows for hybrid telecommuting for district staff and licensed professionals where and when possible.
WATCH THE FULL MEETING
The meeting opened with a review of COVID-19 data in Southern Nevada and how it related to the school district’s own phased reopening plan.
CCSD Health Services Coordinator Linda Kalekas presented the data reports, noting 2,186 children in Clark County have tested positive for COVID-19, or 6% of all known cases, and that they have ranged from mild to critical cases. She clarified the data isn’t exclusively CCSD students, but the county as a whole.
Trustee Danielle Ford raised concerns about testing and contact tracing backlogs. Kalekas said Southern Nevada Health District was leading efforts for contact tracing in the district, with CCSD assisting by facilitating contacts. About 16,000-17,000 people were in the process of contact tracing, Kalekas said.
While reviewing the parent and staff survey, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara emphasized the recommendation for distance learning, saying the data had been something they were already monitoring.
The survey accounted for less than half of the student population, raising more concerns of access to technology and connectivity and presenting as one of the biggest challenges for the distance model.
Greg Halopoff, chief technology officer for CCSD, said he doesn't have a clear answer on internet access at this point, pending a connectivity report from Cox. He said they "can get close" to every student having a Chromebook by the start of school with a large order placed prior to the meeting.
Halopoff said they’re also adding hotspots for more connectivity. He later addressed the concern of students who live in multiple households, saying the hotspot technology is also mobile.
The trustees had one clear agreement through the meeting: the time for decisions was now, instead of ongoing, circular discussion.
"I'm frustrated," said Trustee Linda Young. "We've been doing this almost three months ... you can't do distance education if you don't know who in your school, community or families have connectivity. Each school needs to take care of that."
Young noted essential data needed for the discussion was missing, saying the principals know their schools better than anyone, though the completed surveys were centralized instead of school-to-school.
"This is not rocket science," she said. She said there's no solution at this point for the students that were not connected with during the initial school closure.
Jara told Young no one was more frustrated than he and his team, while Ford agreed with Young's statements.
As of July 19, Halopoff said 220,826 students were registered for the upcoming school year, or 98.5% of enrollment from the year prior. Ford said since the survey was done, enrollment was down 6%.
Board president Lola Brooks said enrollment would be down due to the lack of planned instruction, in conjunction with families who preferred a full in-person instruction or the proposed hybrid model.
Brooks then brought up the specific issue of connectivity to rural communities. Halopoff said the schools meet the state's standards, but households were the challenge. He noted the issue is state-wide, rather than just in Clark County, and they were working with Gov. Steve Sisolak's office for a solution.
Brenda Larsen-Mitchell, Chief Instructional Services Officer for CCSD, detailed the distance learning instructional model for the board, including virtual office hours, live and recorded sessions and shared curriculums between teachers in Canvas.
Larsen-Mitchell said the model can not be a repeat of the final nine weeks of the 2019-2020 school year. She said with the framework, they'll rely on principals to work closer with their teachers when they return on Wednesday.
Larsen-Mitchell said K-12 will be using Canvas, but Google Meet could be used to meet "face-to-face" with parents and students.
Trustee Chris Garvey brought up several issues toward the end of the discussion, including childcare needs and relocating support staff versus layoffs.
Garvey noted they have fewer than 20 days to figure out "are we paying people to do nothing or training them to do something new," and if anyone has been notified that there may be layoffs.
She called this the "death row of public education" for parents who want in-person instruction and will fill those needs on their own through private or charter schools.
"I'm not 100% for distance learning," Garvey said, "but I understand the issues and that some answers we don't have tonight. We're pressured into this by forces beyond our control."
Young compared the decision to the sinking of the Titanic, "we don't have life jackets for everyone ... we're in a crisis, folks, with a capital 'C'." She said they need a plan to "just move on."
"We don't need people to die," Young said, pointing to positive COVID-19 cases among CCSD staff since school has been out. "I'm recommending that we fully implement distance learning ... we need to go back to the drawing board for each school."
"It's better to lose federal dollars than any of you to lose your life," she said.
Jara and staff presented the board with learning opportunities for district staff when they return in August. The proposal included materials for August 5 through 21. CCSD said the development will allow licensed staff, administration and support professionals to learn in person, through telework or hybrid telework.
The board voted 5-1 to approve the hybrid model to allow choice of how to participate. CCSD said principals will work with staff on additional opportunities.
SCHEDULING FOR SECONDARY STUDENTS
The board heard a presentation from staff on instructional scheduling for secondary students. According to CCSD, the discussion focused on how cources could be structured during the school year.
Options included semester-based courses, traditional year-long courses and year-long courses with school discretion for six to eight courses.
The board voted 4-2 to move forward with traditional year-long courses with school discretion.
Teachers are expected to report to work on August 5. The school year will begin August 24.