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Clark County School District school buses line up to pick up special needs students at Variety School, 2800 E. Stewart Ave. on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2017. Photo by Jeff Scheid.

The Clark County School District plans to begin in-person instruction for pre-kindergarten through third-grade students on March 1, ending nearly a year of full-time remote learning for that age group.

School district officials on Wednesday evening confirmed the hybrid model start date in an email to employees. Licensed educators and other designated staff members involved in the hybrid model would report to their work locations on Feb. 22, according to the memo.

“In the near future, staff will receive further communication from their supervisors based on the identified staffing levels necessary to implement the hybrid instructional model,” the memo stated. “Throughout the second semester, the District will work to transition additional grade levels to the hybrid model; however, there is currently no timeline for this transition.”

The decision comes after months of debate about reopening the nation’s fifth-largest school district amid the ongoing pandemic. After COVID-19 cases started climbing in the fall, the school district delayed making any decision or setting a formal timeline. Shortly before winter break, however, district leaders and the Clark County Education Association — the bargaining unit for licensed educators — announced they had reached a tentative memorandum of agreement about how to safely reopen schools, starting with the youngest children.

In mid-January, the Clark County School Board of Trustees approved the memorandum of agreement, though a firm re-entry date for pre-kindergarten through third-grade students was not established. At the same time, the board approved an initial reopening step by allowing schools to bring back high-need students in small groups.

The longer school remained entirely virtual, the more concerns have been mounting about students’ mental health and their academic well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a study this week suggesting that coronavirus transmissions within school settings appeared to be low if appropriate safety precautions were followed.

“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,” Clark County Superintendent Jesus Jara told The New York Times in a story published Sunday. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.” 

The kickoff of the hybrid model represents a much larger shift back to in-person learning. Hybrid models generally involve a mixture of in-person and remote learning to accommodate social-distancing guidelines. The district has not announced those details yet.

The March 1 start date, though, gives the district roughly a month to determine staffing, student enrollment numbers for in-person learning and busing schedules. It also coincides with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for district employees — a process that nationwide and locally has been bumpy at times.

CCEA’s executive director, John Vellardita, said the union is pressing the school district to prioritize vaccinations for employees who would be returning to the classroom with this hybrid model.

“We’re very confident that could be accomplished,” he said.

Jara plans to discuss the transition plan during a media call Thursday morning.

In the meantime, the district is requesting parents of pre-kindergarten through third-grade students complete a hybrid cohort questionnaire, which will assist with the logistical aspects of reopening. Parents who already filled it out can tweak their responses if necessary, officials said. The questionnaire deadline is 6 p.m. Friday. 

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