Updated January 19, 2022 - 8:05 pm
More than 300,000 Clark County School District students and 40,000 employees returned to class Wednesday after a five-day “pause,” but it was not clear how many didn’t attend, either because of COVID-19 or for some other reason.
At Rowe Elementary School on South Bruce Street near UNLV, parent Raynard Marinas parked alongside a curb near one of the school entrances Wednesday morning and waited until the campus opened before sending his sons, 7-year-old Kade and 6-year-old Rayden, on their way.
“I really don’t want to,” Marinas, who moved his family from Hawaii to Las Vegas about a year ago, said about having his first- and second-graders attend in-person classes. “I was hoping they could go online.”
But other parents said they were delighted to bring their kids to school again.
“It’s great because my kid loves school,” said Maria Vega, shortly after delivering her 6-year-old son, Aaron, to another gate at the school.
Vega also said families at the school are serious about taking precautions.
“If you look around, everyone is wearing masks,” she noted.
Is staffing situation improved?
It was not clear Wednesday whether the district’s precarious staffing situation had improved during the so-called pause, which began on Friday and ended Tuesday.
Monica Cortez, assistant superintendent of the school district’s student services division, told reporters at a briefing that she didn’t have employee and student absence data for Wednesday.
And district spokesman Mauricio Marin said absence numbers will be released on a weekly basis, with the next batch expected around Friday.
But Cortez said the district is doing everything in its power to continue with in-person instruction for students.
Cortez said employees were finishing up Wednesday on clearing the remainder of a backlog of student and employee contacts submitted to district hotlines before the break that will allow many to return to campuses.
On Tuesday, the school district said its nurses had contacted 1,409 employees during the pause and cleared 1,068 to return to work. They also contacted 4,057 parents and cleared 2,324 students to return.
The system for notifying the district of new COVID-19 cases or possible exposures, and then clearing employees and students to return to campus, has been a source of complaints since shortly before classes resumed Jan. 5 after winter break.
Both parents and employees have voiced frustrations about the district’s phone hotlines — one for students and one for employees — saying they haven’t been able to get through or faced lengthy hold times.
Online forms fill a gap
In response, the district created online forms — one for parents and one for employees — that callers can fill out if they can’t get through the phone system.
As of Wednesday, the parent form will only be available when phone wait times reach a certain threshold, Cortez said, adding that getting back to one-on-one conversations by phone remains a priority.
As of about 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the district had received 827 student forms that day — the majority of which were parents reporting their child was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 — and 220 employee forms, Cortez said. She did not say how many calls were received.
The district also had just over 1,000 “yellow badges” for employees logged as of Wednesday, she said, referring to a separate screening system that aims to prevent employees from reporting to work sick.
School district employees must use a daily symptom monitoring tool through the emocha Health Mobile app before reporting to work. If they report certain symptoms that could be associated with COVID-19, they’re issued a yellow digital badge, and it requires them to follow up with the district to be cleared to return to work.
Getting reinstated involves a phone conversation with a school nurse, using the same district hotline for employees that is often unreachable because of call volume.
Testing operation includes rapid tests
The district also is relying on COVID-19 testing to help keep schools open. Cortez said Wednesday that the operation for employees, students and “household members” of employees was working efficiently.
Some people qualify for rapid testing where they receive results back within 15 minutes, she said.
For PCR testing, samples are sent to a lab in California, and it typically takes 24 to 72 hours to get results, Cortez said, and those are sent directly to the person who underwent testing.
Kimberly Franich, the communicable-disease manager with the Southern Nevada Health District, said officials of the public health agency are advising and supporting school officials in their effort to keep schools open.
She said at a news briefing Wednesday that the health district has provided contact-tracing teams to augment district efforts and has provided isolation guidance to help reduce the transmission of the virus in schools.
The health district also answers any questions the school district may have and has staff available to assist, Franich said.