It’s two months into the school year, but Monday felt like a new beginning at Legacy Traditional School’s southwest Las Vegas campus.
That’s because kindergarten and first-grade students headed to campus for in-person classes for the first time this school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This group, we consider at risk because they’re just little and it’s hard to learn at home,” school administrator Victoria Welling said.
Many Las Vegas Valley tuition-free public charter schools were previously operating under fully distance education models since mid-March, but some are starting to reopen to a limited number of students as the second quarter of the school year begins.
In addition to Legacy, a handful of other charter schools — including most Somerset Academy campuses, Signature Preparatory in Henderson, and Sports Leadership and Management Academy of Nevada in Henderson — welcomed up to 25 percent of their students back for in-person classes Monday. And others have already brought some students back or plan to later this month.
Most schools are bringing back students in special education, English language learner programs, or pivotal grade levels such as kindergarten, first and sixth. And most are still giving families the option to continue with distance learning.
They’re operating under a hybrid model, a mix of in-person and remote instruction. Some have half-day sessions, while others are using a cohort system where student rotate which days they come to campus.
Distance learning mandate
The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority issued a distance learning mandate in mid-August, saying schools in counties with an elevated level of COVID-19 transmission must offer distance learning for at least 75 percent of their students.
The charter authority’s board may consider revisiting its distance learning mandate in November, officials said earlier this month. But Clark County charter schools may be able to bring back all students for hybrid or full-time in-person classes sooner if the county returns to baseline mitigation based on state COVID-19 data.
Meanwhile, the Clark County School District — which has about 307,000 students — is operating under distance education, with the exception of seven rural schools. The school board could possibly vote Oct. 22 on reopening schools if COVID-19 case numbers allow.
Many local private schools have offered full-time in-person classes since school started in August.
Legacy Traditional School, which has more than 4,500 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at three Las Vegas Valley campuses, brought small groups of students back to campus starting in early September for tutoring, interventions and instruction.
Kindergarten and first-grade students went back to the Cadence campus in Henderson last week. And on Monday, the southwest Las Vegas and North Las Vegas campuses brought back kindergarten and first-grade students.
The school is using a hybrid model where “red track” students attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays, and “blue track” students attend in-person Wednesdays and Thursdays. Students receive online instruction on days they’re not on campus.
Back to school at Legacy
At the southwest Las Vegas campus, more than 100 kindergarten and first-graders are returning to campus this week. About 60 percent of eligible students are participating in the hybrid model, while 40 percent opted for continuing with distance education.
The school has accommodated about 50 children of employees on campus since school began, providing supervision as they log on to distance learning classes while their parents work. And more recently, the school brought back about 100 students with special needs — including English language learners, and those with an Individualized Education Program or 504 plan — and they’re attending in-person morning sessions four days a week.
The campus — which has about 1,600 students in kindergarten through eighth-grades — now has about 270 students receiving some in-person instruction. It’s well below the 25 percent threshold allowed by the state.
If all students aren’t back on campus in a few weeks — if the charter authority allows — the school may move into the next phase of reopening by bringing back more grade levels, Welling said.
On Monday, parents Kristy and Charles Payne watched from behind a fence as their first-grader stood in line waiting to head to class. Kristy Payne said their first-grader is excited to go back to school in-person and their fifth-grader is disappointed older grade levels aren’t going back yet.
Eyob, who declined to share his last name, was also waiting outside with his family Monday morning as they waited for their daughter in kindergarten to go inside. Their son, a second-grader, was also with them.
He said being back in school is good for students and their parents who have to work, and he hopes everyone takes care inside the building. And he also likes that Legacy started bringing students back to campus in small increments to get a taste for how the reopening plan is working. “I think that is very important.”
One family who arrived late brought a little girl up to the building’s front entrance since her classmates were already inside. They helped her put on a face mask and then took photos.
Her father leaned down and gave his daughter some reminders: “When it’s time to learn, it’s time to learn, OK?” he said, then explaining that recess is the time to play.
Inside the building
Like the vast majority of local schools — both private and public — with in-person classes, Legacy’s southwest Las Vegas campus has a no visitor policy due to the pandemic. The school’s front doors were locked Monday and parents weren’t allowed to come inside. But school officials allowed the Review-Journal to come inside briefly to visit classrooms.
There are markings on the hallway floors to help students stay socially distanced. There are also signs with reminders, such as one that says: “Please don’t stand too close to your friends! Always stand 6 feet apart. This will keep us healthy!”
Inside classrooms, rows of desks are facing the front of the room, although that’s standard practice at Legacy even in pre-COVID-19 times. Everyone is required to wear a face mask.
Each student is assigned a desk only they use and on any given day, only every other desk is occupied since each class is at half capacity. Name tags include the student’s name and, in many classrooms, either red or blue ink is used to indicate which cohort the student is in.
In the school cafeteria, there are dots where students sit at tables to keep them at least three feet apart — the minimum distance young children must be separated at school under state rules. While they’re walking in hallways, students hold out one arm in front of them to ensure distancing, which the school refers to as “tiger arms” — a nod to its mascot.
In-person classes at other campuses
Somerset Academy, which has seven campuses in the Las Vegas Valley and more than 9,700 students, also welcomed children to in-person classes Monday. The exception: The Sky Pointe campus brings students back Tuesday.
Each campus has a slightly different reopening plan — including different grade levels it’s bringing back — but most are using a cohort system with each group of students attending either morning or afternoon classes.
Somerset Academy North Las Vegas brought fewer than 25 percent of its kindergarten through eighth-grade students back on campus Monday. The majority of families decided to continue with distance education, Principal Christina Threeton said.
“Our students were so happy to be back on campus that they had no problem keeping their masks on, following our social distancing protocols, and continuing the learning process,” Threeton said in an email to the Review-Journal. “Overall, it was one of our smoothest days and we are all so excited to have children back in the building.”
Somerset Academy Stephanie in Henderson had its kindergarten through second-grade students and special populations return to campus Monday as well.
“It was great to see the excitement of both the parents and students as they dropped off the students,” Principal Ruby Norland said in an email. “Having students on campus definitely lights up the mood in the building. Today’s success was due to the staff’s dedication in keeping our students safe following the current directives and their flexibility in working with our students both in person and virtually.”
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at email@example.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.