Updated January 14, 2021 - 10:48 pm
The Clark County School Board on Thursday took two steps toward reopening school buildings, giving principals the ability to bring small groups of students back to campuses on a voluntary basis and approving an agreement with its teachers union aimed at a broader future reopening.
No timeline was specified for either path, including for when principals might be expected to submit their site-specific plans for a limited return.
The district would remain under the distance education model that has been in place since the beginning of the school year, but it would eventually allow schools to start providing in-person intervention for students identified as needing more support. Meanwhile, the district would start laying the groundwork for a transition to a hybrid instructional model for pre-K to third-grade students as outlined by the the memorandum of agreement with the Clark County Education Association.
Superintendent Jesus Jara described the limited return as a scaled-back plan but one that represents the beginning of allowing students back to school buildings, which have been shuttered since March.
“We are looking at not only a health crisis, but a mental health crisis and an academic crisis,” Jara said.
Jara added the district had hoped to move forward earlier, but had been hampered by the rising COVID-19 cases in the state and the county. Nevada’s two-week COVID-19 positivity rate stood Thursday at 21.6 percent.
In addition to the COVID data, a presentation by district staff highlighted the impacts of distance learning on students’ academics and socio-emotional well-being, including a sharp increase in failing grades for students during fall 2020 compared with fall 2019.
A new School Board passed the recommendation, with fresh faces Lisa Guzman, Katie Williams and Evelyn Garcia Morales joining Linda Cavazos, Irene Cepeda, Danielle Ford and Lola Brooks.
Equity was a top concern for the trustees, with Cepeda asking how schools would determine which students would be allowed back under a limited return.
According to Deputy Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell, principals would use qualitative data gathered from teachers’ and administrators’ virtual interactions with students in addition to academic data.
Trustees also asked about transportation, which is not provided under the limited return. Jara said that was a concern.
The board also approved a memorandum of agreement with the Clark County Education Association that lays out health and safety guidelines for teachers returning to schools under the hybrid instructional model.
Among its points, it states that teachers will participate in mandatory monthly COVID-19 testing, as well as symptom screening and contact tracing, while the district will provide to teachers personal protective equipment like face coverings, face shields and hand sanitizer.
Much of the board’s conversation centered on whether teachers would be required to return to buildings when the district begins rolling out the hybrid cohort model.
The district’s chief negotiator, Fikisha Miller, said the memorandum outlines that a return for teachers would be mandatory but that the district would try to accommodate teachers who aren’t comfortable coming back, with priority for teachers who are members of vulnerable population.
Sites would determine how many students want to come back to calculate how many teachers are needed, Miller said. The union would survey teachers and provide a list of teachers who are “ready, willing and able” to come back to classrooms to site principals, who would make final determinations.
If a school does not have enough volunteers, principals could require some teachers to return, Miller said. She added that CCEA has indicated 70 percent of educators are willing to go back to physical classrooms.
“CCEA believes they have enough teachers to volunteer to come back, with our safety protocols, that we will not have to force teachers to come back,” Miller said.