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Las Vegas Valley private schools report having few COVID cases

Updated September 28, 2020 - 6:16 pm

In the hallways at Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School, signs on the floor indicate a one-way traffic flow during passing periods and mark out 6 feet of social distancing outside classrooms so students know where to stand before entering.

Signs throughout the campus provide other reminders about physical distancing and health measures, including one that reads “Stay safe. Please keep 6 ft. apart.”

The measures may be having an effect. Nevada’s largest private school, which has about 1,900 students and a 50-acre campus near downtown Summerlin, has not seen any confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or employees during its first six weeks of school.

Faith Lutheran brought its 202 employees back to campus full time in late July, and a new school year for students began in mid-August under a hybrid model.

About 850 students are on campus on any given day, while the rest tune in to their classes live from home using Zoom. Each cohort comes to campus for two days and then participates in distance learning for two days. About 250 students opted for full distance learning.

Even though there hasn’t been a COVID-19 case at Faith Lutheran since the school reopened, school officials remain vigilant.

“We are still in the middle of a pandemic with a virus that spreads quickly,” Faith Lutheran CEO Steve Buuck said in a recent news release. “If we get a positive case, our school nurse will work directly with the Southern Nevada Health District to determine the direction to go on quarantining (and) contact tracing and follow up with doctors for evaluation and treatment.”

Like Faith Lutheran, some Las Vegas Valley private schools say they have seen few, if any, COVID-19 cases since opening their doors in August to students for in-person classes. Private schools are reporting virus cases to the Southern Nevada Health District and communicating with parents, but many schools aren’t publicly disclosing case numbers on their websites.

59 positive cases

Southern Nevada Health District spokeswoman Stephanie Bethel said the district is collaborating with private schools on COVID-19. She said the district doesn’t provide specific case information by location.

However, a health district document obtained by the Review-Journal titled “Clark County Schools Reopening Summary” shows that from Aug. 10 to Sept. 21, there were 59 individual confirmed positive COVID-19 cases associated with schools: 35 among students, 18 among teachers and six among staffers. That tally includes the Clark County School District, public charter schools and private schools.

Of the 59 positive cases, 11 among students and eight among school employees involved “exposures to other students or staff.” Those exposures resulted in a 14-day quarantine for 418 additional students or school employees.

“All campuses with COVID-19 cases have closed classrooms to disinfect for 24 hours,” according to the document.

A few of the area’s largest private schools didn’t respond to a Review-Journal inquiry about how many COVID-19 cases they’ve had so far this school year. And one, Henderson International School, declined to provide numbers, saying school policy prohibits disclosure of personal information about students.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas, which has 3,497 students at seven elementary or middle schools and Bishop Gorman High School, has been notified of nine COVID-19 cases during the six weeks since schools reopened.

Of those, six faculty members or staffers out of 234 total have tested positive, as well as three students, according to data provided by the diocese.

At the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus, a Jewish day school in west Las Vegas with about 480 students in preschool through 12th grades, only teachers have reported a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, school spokesman Matt Boland said. He said he couldn’t provide specifics but said case numbers have been low.

The Meadows School in Summerlin, which has about 880 students in preschool through 12th grades, hasn’t had any positive tests on campus since the start of the school year in mid-August with full-time in-person classes, school spokeswoman Lauren Walker said Tuesday.

But before reopening, the school provided COVID-19 testing for its approximately 150 faculty members and staff members. Two tested positive and were quarantined at home.

“They were never around students,” Head of School Jeremy Gregersen said. The two employees later tested negative, via two tests more than 24 hours apart, before returning to work.

The school is paying University Medical Center to provide on-site COVID-19 testing two days a week. Walker said Tuesday more than 700 individual COVID-19 tests have been conducted on campus through the partnership with UMC.

Mountain View Lutheran School, which has 115 students in kindergarten through fifth grades and more than 50 in preschool, opened Aug. 10 with full-time in-person classes. As of Wednesday, the school hadn’t seen any COVID-19 cases.

Principal Kris Schneider said he’s being deliberate in reminding staffers, parents and students not to relax.

“We cannot ease up on this because it’s when we get comfortable that there could be some problems,” he said.

Fewer people in class

Faith Lutheran has stayed coronavirus-free “thanks to self-administered daily health checks, vigilant sanitizing and in-school physical distancing,” according to a news release from the school.

“What I’ve been really impressed with is the students and how compliant they’ve been,” Buuck said Thursday, such as with wearing a mask and disinfecting their desk at the end of each class.

What’s different about this school year?

“Definitely less people in the class,” Faith Lutheran high school junior Tatum Bowers said, adding that wearing a mask all day has been challenging.

Bowers also said participation in classes looks totally different. She said it’s hard to focus while tuning in from home and she thinks that the teachers’ attention is usually on the students who are there in person.

Despite having a policy of no visitors, including parents, Faith Lutheran officials allowed the Review-Journal to spend an hour on campus Thursday to observe in classrooms.

During Steve Morrill’s high school anatomy and physiology class, only about eight students were physically in the classroom while the rest of the class was participating via Zoom.

In a freshman world history class, about 10 students were in teacher Joel Arnold’s classroom. Desks were facing the front of the classroom with more than 6 feet between them.

During the lecture, Arnold asked his students watching via Zoom: “How are you guys doing at home? Microphones on? Can I get a thumbs-up?”

Brandon Buskirk was teaching sixth graders from the back of his classroom with a makeshift plastic barrier surrounding him. His 2-year-old daughter received a heart transplant more than a year ago and is immunocompromised.

“I just have to be careful I don’t bring anything home to her,” he said.

Buskirk said the school year has been smooth thus far, although it was a struggle for the first two or three weeks to adapt to the technology. He also said being in a classroom physically with his students is a lot better than teaching virtually.

“These kids love being in class,” he said. “They need to be in class.”

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Faith Lutheran did not have a policy for visitors.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, founders of the Adelson Educational Campus.

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

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