Updated January 28, 2021 - 8:14 am
The Clark County School District will begin bringing its youngest students back into classrooms March 1, with staff due to return a week earlier, the district said in a memo to families and employees sent Wednesday evening.
The initial return would be only for prekindergarten through third grade students, whose parents are asked to complete a hybrid cohort questionnaire before 6 p.m. Friday.
“Throughout the second semester, the district will work to transition additional grade levels to the hybrid instructional model; however, there is currently no timeline for this transition,” the memo said.
Teachers and other designated staff who are needed “to support the hybrid instructional model” were told to report to their work locations Feb. 22 and to expect further details from their supervisors.
Exactly how many staff will need to return to each campus depends on how many students sign up for in-person instruction, according to the district’s memorandum of agreement with the Clark County Education Association, which was approved by the School Board on Jan. 14.
Telecommuting not guaranteed
The district will try to accommodate telecommuting, according to the agreement, and will prioritize requests from staff who are members of vulnerable populations. But telecommuting is not guaranteed.
The agreement between the district and the union laid out the specifics of a return for lower elementary students and teachers under a hybrid instructional model, including health and safety requirements such as personal protective equipment for staff.
The agreement also said that the district would allow teachers a five-day transition to hybrid instruction without students being on campus.
The district further approved Jan. 14 a limited and voluntary return for small groups of students at all grade levels, though no timeline has been announced yet for schools to submit such plans.
Pressure has been building on the district in recent weeks to commit to reopening school buildings that have been closed since March 15, particularly in light of students’ ongoing mental health concerns in isolation.
A new report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that schools can operate safely if precautions are taken, also added to that pressure.
The report — based partly on studies in districts that are smaller and more rural than CCSD — said the kind of rapid spread found in other high-density areas was not found in schools. However, it notes that recommended mitigation measures such as universal face mask use and social distancing inside classrooms and hybrid attendance models, when necessary, must be put in place.
Districts must also prevent crowding, increase room air ventilation and expand testing to “rapidly identify and isolate asymptomatic infected individuals,” according to the report.
“Staff and students should continue to have options for online education, particularly those at increased risk of severe illness or death if infected with SARS-CoV-2,” the report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said.
Grief and relief
Reaction to reopening in a district of 315,000 students and 42,000 staff spanned the spectrum from grief to relief.
Jason Roth — a father of four CCSD students, including one high schooler, one middle schooler and two elementary students — said the challenges with distance learning have been “significant and continuing” for his second grader, who is suffering socially and losing the ability to write.
While he credits his son’s teacher with being patient and keeping the class on track, he said a parent must sit with the boy all day to encourage him to engage with schoolwork.
“Our challenge is at home, keeping him focused and on task,” Roth said. “We have emotional battles every school day.”
Roth said he believes schools can develop protocols to bring kids back safely and that doing so will have both academic and emotional benefits.
The coming weeks will probably bring many questions about how to accommodate teachers who have young children of their own, as well as those who have concerns about returning to buildings for personal health reasons.
School Board President Linda Cavazos said she’s awaiting more specifics on the plan for a return. She has heard concerns from constituents who want vaccinations before they go back, she said.
Others have also pointed out that what the board approved Jan. 14 — a limited reopening with no timeline — was not what was presented Wednesday, she added.
“I hope we can get a clearer picture for our employees, both the ones very willing to go back and the ones that have some concerns,” she said. “It’s causing such anxiety, and I think the more details we have, we can alleviate some of that anxiety.”
A COVID-19 vaccine push for educators resumed in Clark County this week after being interrupted, with district employees able to register to make an appointment and receive their first doses.
Second grade teacher Vicki Kreidel, who also is president of the National Education Association of Southern Nevada, said she was heartbroken to hear about reopening just as the district was within reach of having all of its elementary teachers fully vaccinated prior to a return.
Had those teachers received priority for vaccines, they could have all been ready by early March, Kreidel said, adding that she hasn’t yet heard whether she’ll be among the staff going back to buildings.
“This sends the clear message that educators are expendable,” she said. “And our educators who teach our youngest students are put at the most risk.”