Updated October 1, 2020 - 3:21 pm
The Clark County School District’s unions representing teachers and support staff are making plans for reopening schools in anticipation of a vote on the issue as early as late October.
School board members said Wednesday that a vote on reopening schools could be possible at the board meeting on Oct. 22, though whether it’s taken depends largely on COVID-19 case numbers continuing to decline in the county. The board is set to receive an update on that data on Oct. 8.
Clark County Education Association Executive Director John Vellardita said Thursday he believes schools will be open before the end of the semester, unless there’s an escalation in the spread of the coronavirus, or some school board trustees can’t agree on a way forward.
The union ultimately does not believe that distance learning is sustainable all year long, according to Vellardita, and would like to see a reopening of schools.
“It’s been taking its toll on teachers,” he said.
However, there are conditions on that reopening, Vellardita said. The first is the continued progress of the Taskforce Initiative for Educator Safety and Screening — the testing, screening and contact tracing program for school staff that makes use of federal CARES Act dollars — which is on track to be ready when schools reopen.
The second condition of reopening is that COVID-19 transmission continues to trend down to the levels outlined by Southern Nevada Health District interim Health Officer Fermin Leguen, Vellardita said.
Reopening won’t be like flipping a switch, with 310,000 students and 40,000 employees suddenly back in schools, he added. He said the union supports a gradual reopening, with the youngest students back in schools first, followed by additional grade levels, with monitoring in between.
Cases are likely to pop up in schools as a result, Vellardita said, but he agrees with the health district’s assessment that a school wouldn’t need to shut down over one case. The TIES program will have educators screen themselves for symptoms daily and merge positive case data with the health district to allow for contact tracing, he said.
Education Support Employees Association Executive Director Lisa Guzman said Thursday she also expects the board to have a vote on reopening if public health data allows it, aiming still to return in January under the hybrid model outlined over the summer.
Representatives of the union are now being included in creating and updating the district’s reopening guide, Guzman said, including writing an FAQ for support staff.
“Although my team and I have not had the same communication as the teachers, we feel we are finally headed in the right direction,” Guzman said.
Guzman said many support employees have already returned to schools, albeit without the student body present. Those who haven’t are eager to go back, but some worry about immunocompromised family members they live with, she added, with one primary concern being that parents will send their kids to school sick.
Some have also expressed concern about answering a questionnaire screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms, she said, fearing that admitting they have one out of a list of symptoms of the disease will get them sent home using their sick days.
“But there’s CARES money for that, and communication needs to go out to principals and supervisors to share that information with employees,” she said.
Another survey is expected to go out to parents and staff about reopening, Guzman said, with special attention to offering an option for families who wouldn’t be able to take the survey online because of access issues.