RENO, Nev. (News 4 & Fox 11) -- News 4's Joe Hart spoke with the Nevada Department of Education and they have confirmed that concerns exist over the legality of the Washoe County School District's Digital Learning Day program, which went into effect during the 2018-2019 school year.
The Nevada Dept. of Education claims that it learned about Washoe County's Digital Learning Day program "through local news outlets" and further stated the same claim in a letter -- obtained by News 4-Fox 11 -- to superintendent, Traci Davis, on January 4.
The state since has directed the WCSD to work with the legislature in order to develop a program that complies with state law; however, district spokeswoman Vicki Campbell commented that the district will continue with its existing Digital Learning Day program whenever school is cancelled due to inclement weather.
The district affirms that Digital Learning Days are a way for students to earn credit, as well as a way for the district to generate funds, when inclement weather pushes for the cancellation of school.
Below is the Washoe County School District's response to the claims presented. It says, in part, that the district received approval for what are now called 'Digital Snow Days' in June of 2018 and that the NDE's letter in January concerns a denial of an amendment to the district's alternative education plan that made an inclusion of TEP, or digital school day, plans.
The Washoe County School District (WCSD) works in close collaboration with the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) to do what is best for all students.
This commitment to support and provide resources for our 64,000 students extends to instances where it is too unsafe for them to travel to and from school.
As part of our collaboration, WCSD sought guidance from NDE and worked together to create the WCSD’s Distance Education Plan. The WCSD Distance Education Plan includes a provision for Temporary Education Plans (TEPs). TEPs were renamed “Digital School Days” in the fall of 2018 for ease of public understanding.
District-wide Digital School Days enable the District to provide all students with online classes and/or take-home work for students to learn from home during inclement and dangerous weather conditions and in place of attending a traditional brick and mortar school.
The use of Temporary Educational Placement (TEP) Days in the WCSD Distance Education Plan was discussed explicitly with the NDE when WCSD was drafting the renewed Distance Education Plan, which the District must update every three years. The name was changed to Digital School Days for ease of public understanding during the rollout district-wide in the fall of 2018.
Written in the approved Distance Education Plan: “When a student cannot attend school and/or it is not safe to convene school in the traditional sense, school will be convened using independent study methods such as packets or online lessons. When a school is closed, principals will enact their TEP plans.”
Having reviewed WCSD’s proposed Distance Education Plan, including the provision with the District-wide Digital School Day plan, NDE confirmed in a letter dated June 13, 2017 that WCSD’s plan was acceptable and approved it for implementation through June 2020.
The letter from the NDE dated January 4, 2019, was in regards to an amendment to WCSD’s Alternative Education Plan, after the NDE met with WCSD officials and requested that WCSD’s alternative education plan be modified to include TEP Plans. WCSD made the requested amendment to incorporate TEP Plans (Digital School Days) to the alternative education plan, which was then denied by the NDE in the January 4, 2019 letter. However, WCSD continues to operate Digital School Days under the approved Distance Education Plan which remains in force until June 2020.
WCSD piloted the distance education plan at schools in Incline Village for the 2017-18 school year with success.
In good faith, WCSD moved forward with implementing the District-wide Digital School Day plan—or TEP plan— within the approved distance education plan for the 2018-19 school year, which we believe provides flexible options for our students and families.
WCSD continues to work with the NDE and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to refine this practice going forward, while continuing our ongoing partnership in protecting and providing a quality education for students in Washoe County.
However, the letter addressed to the Washoe County School District on January 4 of this year alleges 'Digital Snow Days' were a misapplication of their June 2017 approval.
The letter from the NDE from January 4, 2019 says, in part, the district's distance education plan "was approved based on the understanding that these programs would be applied on an individual, case-by-case basis." This approval happened in June 2017, according to both the WCSD and NDE.
The NDE says in their letter that their staff learned of the district's intent to apply the concept of distance learning days in a district-wide 'Digital Day' program in the event of inclement weather. This revelation surfaced in September 2018, the NDE says.
The letter goes on to say that meetings occurred in November 2018 to clarify the intent of the policy and concluded in the agreement that the WCSD would "resubmit the request aligned with prevailing law."
The January 4 letter states that, "While we understand and appreciate the concerns of WCSD regarding gaps in a student's education that can occur when unsafe conditions necessitate the closing of traditional school for a day, the challenge that NDE encounters is the law in its current form does not permit the plan as proposed."
The NDE states several areas in which the district's plan did not line up with Nevada law, including the minimum number of says a student is to attend school and the application of an alternative schedule.
See the full letter from the Nevada Department of Education above. Click on each image to view in full.
This is a developing story. Check back with News 4-Fox 11 for more information as we learn it.