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CCSD’s Jara discusses pandemic’s mental health toll on staff, students

Updated January 29, 2021 - 7:23 pm

Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara began his annual State of the Schools speech on Friday by focusing on the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have had on the mental health of students and staff.

Jara stated in his address that stress and isolation created by the pandemic were driving student suicides to “nearly unthinkable” levels — 20 since schools were closed in March.

He recognized in the audience the family members of a student who had died by suicide and said that in a phone call with them he could find no words to comfort them.

“There’s no worse news to receive or relay to a parent than the death of a child,” Jara said.

His presentation highlighted steps that the district had taken to address mental health, including repurposing the district police department to do home wellness checks and implementing software that alerts schools to self-harm language in students’ posts and searches.

The superintendent delivered his early morning address, interspersed with virtual student performances, to a limited in-person audience at Wynn Las Vegas. All speakers wore masks until they stepped up to the microphone, and custodial staff could be seen wiping down the lectern during breaks.

Jara noted the changes in the presentation from last January, when the district brought in live student performers to preface the speech.

“We didn’t know that months later we’d be faced with the decisions we had to face,” he said.

Jara called 2020 the most difficult year of his career and offered praise for the 41,000 district staff who worked to get through it. He recognized food service staff in particular for being ready to continue meal service as soon as schools closed and volunteers for being willing to go door to door to find absent students.

He said that even after CCSD students return to classrooms, education will not be the same, explaining the need to address the educational inequities that have been amplified by the pandemic and the intention to continue to offer a distance learning option for kids who thrive in that environment.

He also touched on the efforts to recruit, retain and develop more teachers.

A State Board of Education report released Thursday found that Nevada needed around 3,000 more teachers to meet recommended class size in core subjects, drawing a link between smaller class sizes and better student performance. Class-size recommendations range from approximately 15 for students through third grade up to about 25 for older students.

Jara also addressed the transition to in-person instruction for young students beginning March 1, saying that health and safety measures like distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing would be key to a successful reopening.

In a session with reporters afterward, Jara said information on reopening in small groups had gone out to building principals and that the district was reviewing Jan. 4 guidance from the Southern Nevada Health District regarding whether recess and lunch breaks in cafeterias could be offered.

In order to bring back older grades, Jara said he was looking for a “perfect” delivery of the prekindergarten to third grade reopening, as well as a continuing decrease in Clark County’s COVID-19 case numbers and greater vaccine availability across the community.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton.

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