As predicted by doctors and scientists months ago, cases of COVID-19 are rising dramatically in Nevada and across the country.
Last night, the Clark County School Board delayed a vote on whether the district’s students and teachers should go back into the classroom part-time.
Superintendent Jesus Jara told KNPR's State of Nevada that even if the timeline for when students return is flexible the district needs to have a plan in place so principals and staff can start working towards that day.
"We have to have a plan to transition our children and our adults back into our schools," Jara said.
Jara agreed with Governor Steve Sisolak's recent request that everyone stay home as much as possible over the next two weeks to stop the rise in community spread of the coronavirus.
The superintendent doesn't want to put the health of the kids or the adults in jeopardy, but he does want a plan to move forward.
One of Jara's main motivations for pushing for a return to school when it is safe is the mental health of students. He noted that a 9-year-old student from a CCSD school committed suicide this past week.
"The challenge for both our educators and for our students is the mental health, the isolation," he said, "It is something that I'm really, really concerned about. It's the mental health of our children."
He said the social isolation that many students have gone through over the past several months is damaging to their mental health. Jara said it is important for teachers and other adults at schools to put their eyes on the students and interact with them.
Jara said some students are thriving under the online learning model and other students are struggling. According to district data, third, fourth and fifth graders are having the most trouble, along with high school seniors.
"I think this hybrid model and bringing our teachers and our students in, at least two days a week we can do it safely," he said.
Jara said the district is working closely with the Clark County Education Association, which is the teachers' union, to establish the best safety protocols.
John Vellardita is the executive director of the teachers' union. He said the biggest concern his members have is safety for their students and themselves.
"I think it starts with the classrooms, the environment, is safe to return," he said, "I think that is one of the biggest issues people want to know. Here we are in a community where the transition rate is escalating and it's the community that is going to come into that classroom and that classroom becomes a confined space and then you have an airborne pathogen. Those are all the ingredients for transmission."
Vellardita said teachers and staff want a robust and complex safety plan before they come back to school. The plan needs to include testing, contact tracing, proper protective equipment, improved ventilation systems, sanitation procedures, and social distancing protocols.
"I think if we achieve that, it kind of opens the door to, 'okay can we look at these buildings being safe for a return,'" he said, "This has to apply to everybody, from our perspective. You don't just do it to half the people in that classroom. It has got to be all staff, including students and I think parents need to understand that."
One thing the board did approve Thursday was an expanded testing and contact tracing program for teachers. The program will be funded by CARES Act dollars.
Jara said the testing is one piece of the safety puzzle, and the district will continue to work with the CCEA to make sure there are policies and protocols in place to keep teachers safe.
It is not just creating the safety plan on paper but implementing it in individual schools with individual students. Vellardita said it is a behavior modification for everyone.
"All of that is a challenge and there is a learning curve in it," he said, "If and when that day occurs, where these schools do open, is it going to be a magic bullet where everything is going to work perfectly? Absolutely not, there's going to be these issues that we're going to have to deal with."
Vellardita said part of the behavior modification is setting the expectations now, and reminding parents that if they want schools to reopen then need to make sure their children follow the mask and social distancing rules.
Jesus Jara, superintendent, Clark County School District; John Vellardita, executive director, Clark County Education Association
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