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Las Vegas Parents Turning to Private Schools to Get Kids Back in Classroom

As her 6-year-old son, Bryce, prepares to enter the first grade, Jennifer Shomshor is worried he is going to immediately fall behind if he can’t attend school five days a week.

With the coronavirus surging in Nevada, public schools in Clark County are looking at offering live classroom instruction two days a week and online “distance learning” the other three days.

“To even suggest that distance learning or any version of distance learning is effective, especially for small children or children with special needs, is shortsighted,” Shomshor said.

So her family decided to tap into their savings to send Bryce to a private school where he will be in the classroom every day.

“It’s going to take every last penny that we have,” said Shomshor, who isn’t the only parent willing to pay the price.

A number of private schools are reporting an upswing in enrollment as parents seek to get their children back into a more normal classroom setting.

“Our phone’s been ringing off the hook,” said Matt Boland, director of marketing, at the Adelson Educational Campus, a private Jewish school that offers classes from preschool through 12th grade.

Adelson is opening Aug. 12, nearly two weeks before the public schools, and is offering five days a week of in-person instruction.

Tuition ranges from $18,000 to $24,000 a year. But, as Boland pointed out, “you get what you pay for sometimes.”

Despite the ongoing pandemic, Adelson, which is capped at 450 students, plans to open safely and is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. That includes proper social distancing and face masks for students and staff, Boland said.

Like public schools, private schools must submit their reopening plans to the Nevada Department of Education and certify they meet state guidelines.

Though the School Board has not approved a final plan, Clark County School District officials say a staggered schedule for classroom instruction is needed to achieve proper social distancing among 300,000 students.

“Putting students in a five-day program, face to face, it’s not feasible,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said recently.

Some private schools, meanwhile, have smaller enrollments and more space. They are also taking steps such as requiring masks, taking the temperature of students and staff and requiring parents wait outside to pick up their children.

One mother — who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job because she is also a CCSD teacher — said she is considering getting a second job so she can send her children to a private school. They are on a waiting list at Faith Lutheran Academy.

She said her own kids didn’t learn much after schools were shut down in March and reverted to online classes to finish out the school year.

And the children she was teaching online often didn’t pay attention or were absent, she said.

“You can’t expect a kindergartener to sit on the computer for an hour and be engaged,” she said. “I was lucky if I had three kids a day online.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, which operates seven elementary schools and one high school — Bishop Gorman — has also seen more parents inquiring about enrollment after CCSD announced its reopening plans.

“We did see a slight uptick,” said Catherine Thompson, superintendent of Catholic schools.

The Diocese, which has about 3,500 students combined, is planning for students at the lower schools to attend class five days a week.

Students and staff will have to wear masks and their temperatures will be taken before entering school buildings.

“We just wanted to make sure that any protocols that we would implement for the opening of our churches or our schools, that we will be following all those directives to a T,” Thompson said.

Reopening plans for Bishop Gorman have not been finalized and may be a hybrid model of in-person and online learning, Thompson said.

A number of smaller private schools are also preparing to reopen.

Academy for Learning has an enrollment of 30 and will also be offering full-time classroom instruction.

Elissa Hollander’s 11-year-old son would have gone to Sig Rogich Middle School if she hadn’t enrolled him at Academy for Learning.

Hollander said she thought her son would transition better from elementary to middle school at a smaller school with daily live classes. “He doesn’t have to be lost in the shuffle of CCSD,” she said.

At Mountain Heights Montessori, which is offering daily early childhood education classes, most students move on after kindergarten. But because of the pandemic, many parents want their children to stay for first grade this year, said Lana Strong, owner and director.

“Their plans to go to public school or a bigger school are falling through with everything going on, so they’d rather stay with us because they trust us,” Strong said.

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