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CCSD Faces Spirited Racial Debate As Racism Policy Developed

Amanda Pease cleans a classroom desk at Eisenberg Elementary School earlier this year as the Clark County School District reintroduced in-person learning.
John Locher/Associated Press

Amanda Pease cleans a classroom desk at Eisenberg Elementary School earlier this year as the Clark County School District reintroduced in-person learning.

The nation’s racial reckoning has brought raised voices and emotional appeals to recent meetings of Clark County School District trustees.

The Clark County School District is in the midst of developing an anti-racism policy for one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Also, the debate over critical race theory has brought fiery rhetoric to the public comments at trustee meetings.

A recent meeting needed to be briefly halted to let tempers cool following discussion of racism and critical race theory, which explores the racial underpinnings of public policy.

Opponents contend critical race theory is divisive and pits people against each other based on racial and cultural distinctions.

The president of the Clark County School District Board of Trustees said the discussions of critical race theory cloud the district’s effort to draft a racism policy, which is a separate issue.

“Critical race theory is not being taught in the Clark County School District, our superintendent has stated that at a public meeting; I have stated that,” said board President Linda Cavazos. “They're very passionate in their beliefs, but they are stating things that are not true.”

Nevada PTA President Rebecca Dirks Garcia said she wonders about the intentions of some of those speaking out at school board meetings.

“Unfortunately, some people who are doing this, I think, quite frankly, are not supporters of public education in general,” she said, and that the disruptions are being fueled by our divided politics, the pandemic, and the frustrations they have bred.

“All of those events, I think, are converging to bring us to where we are,”  Dirks Garcia said. “It's important as a community that we recognize that maybe some of the loudest voices pushing this division may have other things in mind.”

The school district responded to the critical race theory pushback, releasing a statement defending the teaching of sensitive issues and reading in part, “our schools have a moral and patriotic obligation to teach a balanced and comprehensive history of our nation, including events that others have hidden or conveniently avoided.”

Trustee Cavazos said she fears the disruptions at board meetings might sour students on becoming more active in the educational process.

“It hurts our children; we have students that at the last meeting that, I'm sorry to say, they waited hours" to be able to speak, Cavazos said. “Student voices are very passionate. They're the ones that are in the trenches, they're living this. … I know for a fact that some of them are being subjected to discrimination.”

The school district is in the process of developing anti-racism policies that Cavazos said she hopes could be put in place during the new school year. In that effort, she and district officials will be receiving guidance from a community task force that is being set up.

Top district administrator Samuel Scavella, assistant superintendent in the College, Career, Equity, and School Choice Unit, said he was heartened by the community response to the creation of the task force, which drew nearly 250 applicants.

“That's a lot of people that have really expressed an interest to engage in this work,” Scavella told State of Nevada, adding that the public’s buy-in will add credibility to the effort. “With a spirit of transparency, we’re trying to gain all of the voices or inputs that's possible, with people who have the desire to really engage with us.”

He said the task force will begin its work in the next few weeks, after the panel's membership is set.

Linda Cavazos, president, CCSD Board of Trustees; Rebecca Dirks Garcia, president, Nevada PTA; Samuel Scavella, assistant superintendent, Clark County School District

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Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.
Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.