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CCSD relaxes playground restrictions

Updated March 10, 2022 - 7:08 pm

The Clark County School District’s relaxed COVID-19 mitigation guidance will mean fewer playground restrictions for children during recess.

In an announcement to employees, the district said updated guidance — which was approved by the Southern Nevada Health District — was slated to take effect Wednesday.

Changes under the current lower COVID-19 transmission status in Clark County include no longer requiring “cohorts,” or groups of students, to stay only within their designated peer group during recess and other outdoor activities.

Some parents had voiced concerns about the district’s previous policy, including that students had to switch off days using playground equipment while others were assigned to spaces such as basketball courts and fields.

Las Vegas parent Karlee Phelps created a Change.org petition last month — which garnered about 1,800 signatures — calling for the school district to allow elementary school students to have access to their school playground every day and for classes to intermingle.

Phelps told the Review-Journal on Wednesday that she feels validated the district made changes quickly to its guidance.

“My reaction was just joy and excitement for the kids,” she said about learning of the new guidance.

Phelps said her daughter who’s in third grade and her son who’s in kindergarten at Darnell Elementary School in northwest Las Vegas are excited they can make friends from other classes now.

Phelps also said her children will be more active at school, translating into an improved ability to focus in the classroom.

Phelps said she understands the changes will be a little challenging for school administrators to implement in terms of rearranging recess schedules, but hopes that can happen soon so students can start benefiting.

The school district, which has more than 300,000 students, announced the relaxed COVID-19 guidance as case numbers have been falling in recent weeks.

Last month, Gov. Steve Sisolak lifted a state mask mandate and the school district said the same day it wouldn’t require masks indoors anymore.

The district’s changes announced this week include looser playground restrictions, not requiring face masks on school buses, and no longer mandating unvaccinated employees — as well as certain students who participate in activities such as athletics — to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.

Some COVID-19 mitigation measures remain in place, though. That includes continuing with contact tracing; requiring seating charts for classrooms, and for school breakfasts and lunches; requiring employees to use the emocha Mobile Health daily symptom monitoring tool before showing up to work; and schools having separate “sick” and “well” rooms.

The district said in a Wednesday statement to the Review-Journal that based on the declining COVID-19 test positivity rate in Clark County and multiple conversations with the health district, the recommendation was made to eliminate cohorts for recess and outdoor activities “due to the limited risks of spread outdoors” with the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

There’s still the need for some COVID-19 mitigation strategies “to use to assist in monitoring our current status and be prepared to make adjustments to ensure that we continue to provide safe as possible in-person instruction for our students,” the district said.

The district said it will continue monitoring test positivity rates, research, and future Southern Nevada Health District and CDC recommendations in determining next steps.

How one school handles lunch and recess

At Tate Elementary School in the north Las Vegas Valley, the school is now allowing each grade level to run freely at recess — with students allowed to commingle with other classes and use any area of the schoolyard — as a result of the district’s updated guidance.

Students work hard during the day and need a break to get outside, Principal Sarah Popek said Wednesday. “Recess is very important at the elementary school level.”

Classroom teachers at Tate are still supervising during daily recess time — a change made this school year due to the pandemic — and indoor lunchroom protocols remain the same, she said.

The school revised its master schedule in August so only one grade level is in the lunchroom at any time. Students are inside for the entire 30-minute lunch period and then head outside for 10 minutes of recess.

Inside the lunchroom, each “cohort” of students — one class — is seated together and each child is three feet apart, designated by stickers on the tables. There’s at least six feet of space between each class.

The school created a socially distanced recess master plan, which assigned each class to a designated area on or near the basketball courts. The school provided balls and chalk for students to use.

The school’s plan also allowed students to stand in the shade, if needed, in designated areas.

There was a rotating schedule that gave each class a “playground” day once every six days and a “field” day once every six days.

Custodial teams cleaned playground equipment between lunch periods.

With teachers supervising at recess, it gave them a chance to interact with students in a different way, Popek said. For example, some fifth-grade teachers were playing basketball with their students.

She said she realizes those are 10 minutes of lost instructional time, but it’s an opportunity to develop and reinforce social skills. And with increased supervision from teachers, there were far fewer behavioral incidents among students during recess, she added.

Playground rules also weren’t as strict as when classes resumed in spring 2021 after a year of distance learning due to the pandemic.

At the time, every Tate student had their own plastic bag for recess that included two pieces of chalk, a ball on a string and jump rope. Students couldn’t share the equipment and had to stay six feet away from their classmates.

Parent concern over playground policies

Some parents voiced concerns in recent months about the school district’s playground restrictions.

During an early February School Board meeting, parent Richard Meyers said his 9-year-old son hadn’t been allowed to use his elementary school playground on a daily basis.

He also said basketballs had recently been taken away due to COVID-19 restrictions, and students were using dirty socks and used water bottles in their place.

Phelps raised concerns during a late February School Board meeting. And last week, she told the Review-Journal that relaxing playground restrictions shouldn’t cause any issues with contact tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19.

“I believe recess is one of the safest things to normalize because it’s outside and students are only commingling for very short amounts of time,” she said.

Phelps started looking into the district’s playground policy after her daughter came home from school one day and said her class was only allowed to use playground equipment on Thursdays. On other days, they were assigned to different sections of a field.

Phelps said she discovered schools across the district weren’t applying COVID-19 playground guidance uniformly. “The guidance from CCSD is somewhat ambiguous, so principals are enforcing it differently.”

She said last week she had received correspondence from district officials, who told her they were working on updates to COVID-19 mitigation guidance.

Parents were getting frustrated, Phelps said, noting it has been weeks since the mask mandate was lifted and they’re ready for more changes.

“Play is a mitigation strategy and we need to shift our focus from restrictions to collaborating on how to promote student health and wellness,” she said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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