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As pandemic surges, Clark County School Board tables decision on resuming in-person learning

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

Earlier this week, the Clark County School District released a transition plan to in-person learning, which laid out a potential timeline for educators and students returning to classrooms.

Now that plan remains in transition.

Acknowledging rising COVID-19 cases statewide and locally, the Clark County School Board on Thursday night postponed a vote on the 205-page plan. The delayed decision capped off a contentious few days as educators, parents and employee unions reacted to the prospect of moving the district’s roughly 310,000 students to a hybrid model in early January.

Before trustees began a discussion, Board President Lola Brooks announced that she and Superintendent Jesus Jara were recommending trustees refrain from voting Thursday night. Brooks said the delay would allow time for the district to gather more feedback and make tweaks to the plan before a future vote.

Additionally, Jara said the district was “very close” to finalizing some agreements with the Clark County Education Association, a politically powerful teachers’ union that could have thrown a wrench in any plans to resume in-person learning. But a more imminent hurdle, as the board president and superintendent suggested, was the pandemic itself.

Gov. Steve Sisolak delivered an impassioned plea Tuesday evening, imploring Nevada residents to stay home as much as possible given rapidly multiplying COVID-19 case numbers. The state is averaging 1,330 new coronavirus cases per day, and hospitalizations, despite a small dip Thursday, have largely been on the upswing.

Still, the superintendent stressed the precarious balancing act the district is trying to strike from the perspectives of physical health, mental health and academics. An increase in student suicides has troubled educators and state officials alike, as has spotty attendance numbers during distance learning.

“Make no mistake, we are suffering here in Clark County,” Jara told the board Thursday night. “And as we enter into the winter months, our challenges will increase exponentially, but the future of our children is on the line.”

The district’s lengthy proposed plan called for an end to employee telecommuting starting Dec. 1, followed by a gradual return of students in early January. Students would be placed in cohorts and rotate between two days of in-person learning and three days of remote learning, per the plan, which also allowed families to continue full-time distance education if they wished.

The plan generated hundreds of emailed public comments articulating fears about the health consequences of returning to frustrations about a seemingly unending distance education model.

The postponed vote, however, appeased several trustees who repeatedly vocalized qualms about reopening given the COVID-19 case numbers.

“It is wonderful to have a living document and something that we can tweak and we can improve on,” Trustee Linda Cavazos said. “But I am very much more interested in having living students, living employees, living grandparents, living community members, and I'll end there.”

Trustee Danielle Ford, meanwhile, questioned whether as many parents would support the transition plan if they knew all that it entailed — namely, the possibility of students changing teachers mid-year and conforming to strict distancing requirements that will take away many normal social aspects of school.

Her term-limited colleague, Trustee Deanna Wright, said the inclusion of dates in the proposed plan (Dec. 1 for an end to employee telecommuting and students returning Jan. 4 and Jan. 11) made her uneasy. In the end, she said, it could amount to giving students false hope and then “yanking it from them” if coronavirus cases continue spiraling out of control through early January.

But the delayed decision didn’t sit well with Trustee Chris Garvey, who’s also term-limited at the end of this year. She likened it to standing in the middle of the road waiting to be hit by a vehicle because “we’re too afraid to make a decision.”

The continual extensions of remote learning, she said, could hurt the district’s most vulnerable children in the long run.

“I fear that we have basically committed all of our children to be in isolation for the rest of the school year, no matter what comes through,” Garvey said.

It’s unclear how soon the board will reevaluate the reopening question. It has two more regular board meetings scheduled this year — one on Nov. 19 and another Dec. 10. 

Because of the governor’s message Tuesday evening, Jara has directed most district employees to telecommute at least through Nov. 30. The state’s other urban school system — the Washoe County School District — has decided to continue with in-person learning, per a school board decision earlier this week.


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