Clark County School District staff who will oversee sickrooms for students exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus infection say they have yet to receive the personal protective equipment needed to safely operate the on-campus isolation rooms.
District officials promise a backup plan is in place that will have staff safely outfitted in time for the first day of school for prekindergarten through third-grade students Monday.
Under its reopening plan, the district is relying on 340 first-aid safety assistants — whose primary role is to provide first aid to students — to staff sickrooms, where students displaying at least two symptoms of COVID-19 will be sent to await pickup.
For the added risk they are accepting, the assistants will receive a one-time bonus of $3,000, and they have been offered a full set of personal protective equipment that includes plastic gowns, caps, gloves, face shields and N95 masks.
Only the assistant and certain backups will be assigned to provide coverage in the sickrooms, according to the district’s reopening guide, though school nurses may periodically be called on to cover breaks or during staffing shortages.
Days to go, no N95 mask
But one district safety assistant, who requested anonymity out of concerns she would face reprisals, said that as of Tuesday she had yet to be fitted for an N95 mask and was worried she wouldn’t have one by the time schools reopened.
The person designated as her backup is in an identical situation, she said, leaving it unclear if anyone would be available to staff the school’s sickroom come Monday and whether the school could reopen without someone in that position. The school nurse, she added, was shared among several other schools.
The safety assistant said that while she had made an appointment at a facility the district has contracted with weeks ago for her mask fitting, it was canceled and she was instead sent to a clinic for a physical. After completing that on Tuesday, she said she still needs to take training on the mask and undergo a fitting, with just four business days left before the big return.
“It’s a lot that they’re putting on us,” she said.
Asked about the safety assistants at a news briefing Tuesday, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district had discussed a backup plan in which nurses and assistants in schools that aren’t yet open would be transferred to elementary schools to ensure coverage.
“This is why it’s so critical that we start slow and steady,” he said.
District representatives added that they weren’t aware of any supply chain issues with the personal protective equipment but noted that the fitting procedures for each staff member took time.
More reopening considerations
At the news briefing at Goolsby Elementary School, Jara described reopening schools as critical, and he said Monday’s return of the youngest students was the first step toward returning all students to class.
“This is the first step of something we’re going to do safely, strategically and carefully,” he said.
Jara also fielded questions about how the district will ensure an equitable reopening for its some 200 elementary schools, which include campuses in pricey west Las Vegas neighborhoods and those serving low-income populations elsewhere in the county.
He said the district has set forth guidelines that cover safety and wellness but that, as in other years, schools have their own needs and considerations.
“We are not shying away from giving school leaders the autonomy to do different things,” Jara said.
A successful return, he added, would include mitigating COVID-19 infection rates in schools and keeping them lower than the overall rates in the community, as has been done elsewhere in the country.
There’s no timeline yet on when older students in the school district could return, but Jara said he expects to provide more information to the School Board following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s announcement last week that he would begin easing some COVID-19 restrictions.
Goolsby teachers who returned to their classrooms Monday said they were excited to welcome their students back.
Katie VanderVeldt, one of four kindergarten teachers returning to in-person instruction, said one adjustment will be the way she moves about the classroom: In order to maintain proper social distance, she’ll also have to remember not to crouch down next to students’ desks to help with questions.
But with restrictions easing, she said she hopes her class will soon be able to use the small group spaces in the room. Until then, students can take clipboards outdoors for lessons when the weather is nice.
“To me, it’s about making this fun for them,” she said.
First grade teacher Jennifer Shenkberger said she and other teachers plan to greet returning students at the gate before reintroducing them to the classroom. Then they will jump into a craft and a STEM activity.
Shenkberger will teach all three cohorts, with nine students in Cohort A on Mondays and Tuesdays, six students in Cohort B on Thursdays and Fridays, and seven students participating in full-time distance learning.
While this first day of school is like no other, she said one upside is that her students already know her.
“The children are so excited to come back,” she said. “Their backpacks are already packed and ready to go.”
The Clark County School District on Tuesday provided a breakdown of the number of students in each of its three cohorts as the district prepares to reopen schools to Pre-K through third-grade students on Monday.
Cohort A: Around 21,191 students — or just over 23 percent of the eligible population — will take in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays,
Cohort B: Another 19,642 students — or just over 21 percent — will be on campuses on Thursdays and Fridays.
Cohort C: The remaining 51,233 — or nearly 56 percent — will continue in full-time distance learning.