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School Starts Monday With Masks

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John Locher/Associated Press

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara discusses a return to in-person learning early this year.

School starts Monday in Southern Nevada with masks required for students and teachers.

Amid a spike in the pandemic, Gov. Steve Sisolak this week ordered students and school employees in the Las Vegas and Reno areas to wear masks when classes resume. That follows a similar edict issued by the Clark County School District mandating masks

"We have to do what's best for the safety and the health of our students and all of our employees," Superintendent Jesus Jara told State of Nevada. "We had summer school and we didn't hear any complaints from our kids that were wearing masks."

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He said there's excitement in the district in "having our kids back in school where they belong," adding that another year of distance learning "is not sustainable."

Jara said the district remains committed to in-person instruction despite the current resurgence of the pandemic, and there are no plans to return to full-time distance learning.

“That's not a conversation we're having right now,” he said. “We have excellent mitigating strategies for our students, our employees.”

He added that more parents are opting to enroll their children in Nevada Learning Academy the district’s online school.

The head of the teachers union for Clark County said individual campuses need to be nimble in their responses to the rising number of coronavirus cases.

“There's an ascendancy of this transmission rate, and so I think we got to be adaptive,” said John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association. “So what does adaptive mean? I think it depends on what the environment is, I think you're gonna see it different in each school.”

Vellardita said “a fairly significant block of educators” have yet to be vaccinated, and the union endorses regular testing for them.

“I think within those that are not willing to get vaccinated, there's probably a couple of camps,” he said.

“There are people that philosophically or for religious reasons, don't embrace this. And, you know, to a certain extent, we can understand that, but I also think there's an element that has been on the sidelines,” he said. “I think our experience here is no different than what we're seeing nationally.”

Jara said one upside to the pandemic might be the nearly $800 million provided the district in federal relief funds that he said can provide for “a kids-first agenda in this community.”

The superintendent said that a final decision on how to use the funds will come after a listening tour and further discussion, but topics he hopes to see addressed include improved mental health services, accelerating learning, and addressing the digital divide.

“Those are three big buckets that have been amplified in their need in this community,” he said.

Guests

Jesus Jara, superintendent, Clark County School District; John Vellardita, executive director, Clark County Education Association

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