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School District Wants to Change Law Over Controversial “Digital Days”

By Bob Conrad
Washoe Schools Superintendent Traci Davis. Image: Ty O’Neil.

The Washoe County School District (WCSD) today announced that it met with the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) and is seeking to change Nevada law for its “digital days.”

“WCSD and the NDE are working in partnership with the Nevada State Legislature on possible changes to the law that will clarify what equates to a school day in session when inclement weather creates conditions that do not allow students and staff to safely travel to school,” said WCSD spokesperson Victoria Campbell.

The district has not admitted wrongdoing, but the state issued a memorandum to WCSD in early January informing Superintendent Traci Davis that digital days were not in compliance with various state laws.

“While we understand and appreciate the concerns of WCSD regarding the gaps in (student) 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,” former Superintendent of Public Instruction Steve Canavero wrote to WCSD on January 4.

Canavero proceeded to list the laws that WCSD’s policy was violating. (See the full letter below.)

The school district proceeded with its digital days anyway. After KRNV’s Joe Hart first reported last week that the state found the district in violation of Nevada Revised Statutes, the district pushed back and said that NDE, in fact, had approved digital days and WCSD would continue using them through 2020.

“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,” WCSD noted in a statement to the news media last week. “The name was changed to Digital School Days for ease of public understanding during the rollout district-wide in the fall of 2018.

“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.”

Canavero’s memo to WCSD Superintendent Traci Davis, however, specifically outlined how a previously approved distance education program was not the same as WCSD’s digital days. He said that the state tried to apply existing law to WCSD’s digital days, but that the district’s “proposal is not approved as it is inconsistent with existing laws and regulations.”

WCSD took heat online twice last week over its digital days policies. The first blow-up was for going from a district-wide snow day to one based on zones where schools are located.

The move was, by most accounts from parents, teachers, students, and school administrators, a disaster. WCSD reversed course after hundreds of negative comments were posted all over social media.

The School District’s changes to its digital days for local schools was faced with criticism last week, as evidenced by hundreds of responses, like this one, on social media.

Days later, KRNV’s Hart posted on Facebook a scathing commentary about the district’s lack of responsiveness during times of controversy. He was referring to how NDE had in January declared digital days illegal.

“We elect our Washoe County school board trustees to represent us, make good decisions and be accessible. We pay our Superintendent Traci Davis $293,000 a year to run the school district. We pay our deputy superintendent $182,000 to help run the district. And we pay several people to work as ‘public information specialists’ in the district,” he wrote.

“These are all your taxpayer dollars funding these salaries. Yet when News 4 broke a story today about the Washoe County School District’s Digital Learning Days being in violation of state law (according to the Nevada Department of Education), not one of those people from the district was available or willing to sit down with us, go on camera and explain how this happened. No one stepped up. In fact, they hid for 24 hours.”

His post went viral with commenters again criticizing the district. A few defended WCSD, chalking up NDE’s letter as retaliation for an alleged funding deficit WCSD blames on the state. (A Legislative Counsel Bureau opinion found no wrongdoing by the state, as reported last year by ThisisReno, but the district maintains it’s being treated unfairly.)

Hart today posted that WCSD is still unresponsive:

“The Washoe County School District declined our request for an interview today with Superintendent Traci Davis regarding the controversy over the district’s Digital Learning Days program. We first reported last Thursday that the state had informed the district the program is not supported by state law.

“Instead of an interview where we could ask our own questions, the school district sent out a brief press release this afternoon saying they hope to convince state lawmakers to change the law to accommodate Digital Learning Days in the future.

“So that’s where things stand. The state says the program was never approved. The school district now says it hopes to change the law. We still don’t know who at the school district decided to move ahead with this program without getting state approval first.”

In response to the first onslaught of criticism last week, WCSD spokesperson Victoria Campbell said the district is a responsive, learning organization.

“The Washoe County School District prides itself on being responsive to our students, families, staff members, and our community,” she said. “We teach our students to listen and learn, and we strive always to model that behavior in all of our work.

“We are continually refining our processes and striving to improve our service to our families, and we appreciate their partnership and feedback.”

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