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COMMENTARY: Keeping Clark County schools closed would be a disaster

The Clark County School District is carefully preparing to open our doors of education at the beginning of next calendar year. We are committed to following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive — Stay Home Nevada 2.0 — so we can do our part to curb the spread of this hideous virus that has the world standing still. This, all on the heels of a sobering health, academic and mental health crisis that once again has the students of Clark County at the center of a national educational crisis.

A new report by the Children’s Advocacy Alliance sounds the alarm on our community’s economic disparity, poverty and the need for social services in education. In addition, it is more telling that the report’s abysmal ratings in its children’s report card focus on data collected prior to the global pandemic we are facing.

Now, consider the toll that prolonged student absence from our schools will have on this community in the weeks, months, years and — dare I even say — decades, to come. It is a sobering notion for many, but it is imperative that we embark on a path to safely and responsibly reopen our schools. Our very future, especially that of our children, depends on it.

As superintendent, you prepare yourself for many inevitable events and scenarios. You sit up at night contemplating each area that can potentially affect children, and you create a comprehensive plan. However, in all of my years of extensive preparation, I have never seen the devastating toll that one phenomenon has unleashed on an already vulnerable and marginalized group in the way that this virus has affected us.

We are in the midst of a crisis that has catastrophic implications on every sector in this community. The destabilization of almost every industry has unleashed a tidal wave of consequences that are directly affecting our students, teachers and their families. They are suffering greatly. Since August 2020, a nearly unthinkable 11 Clark County School District children have ended their own lives. This compared to the still devastating single suicide the district faced in 2019.

Something must be done! Keeping the doors of our schools closed indefinitely will only continue to add fuel to an already raging destiny-destroying fire of uncertainty.

For the past few weeks, I have been engaging in a series of listening tours with myriad stakeholders, so I can accurately capture all aspects of education and provide greater assistance to our families. The stories are sobering. The isolation students are facing is heart-wrenching. The mental health of our teachers, support professionals and administrators is being tested, and the future economic stability in our state, like all other parts of this country, is uncertain.

Trying to find a solution to these challenges is my job, but directly shifting the needle on academics is going to take the support of this entire community. We are calling on the business community, our retired teaching force, nonprofits, educational advocacy groups and any citizen who is committed to ensuring the economic and academic vitality of our community to step forward and support.

In the weeks ahead, I will be providing the findings of the listening tours and a window of opportunity for all to review and provide feedback. Together, we will create a road map for our future. Your input, your insight and resources are desperately needed. This is not a Clark County School District dilemma. This is a global problem, and it has to be tackled with that in mind.

The district’s plan to bring our students back to school includes the implementation of the hybrid instructional model at all schools except those opening for or continuing in full-time face-to-face instruction. This united effort must be done strategically with staggered groups of students over a two-week time frame to allow schools to adjust protocols and procedures as necessary. Parents have a choice for their children, as they may select if their children participate in two days of face-to-face instruction and three days of distance education each week or continue to participate in full-time distance education.

We have developed health and safety protocols aligned with the Southern Nevada Health District and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure all health and safety protocols are followed. It is critical that we work feverishly to get our students back in school, but we need to do it thoughtfully with the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff as the top priority. I am committed to accomplishing this feat, but even more importantly, we must not lose sight of the challenges that urban education faced in Clark County before the pandemic because they are even bigger now.

Here in Nevada, and in Washington, D.C., we must all be committed to addressing these long-term issues and preparing our kids for the future they rightfully deserve. I know these decisions are not easy, but we cannot ignore that if we continue to keep our school doors closed, many of our children and their families will be far more negatively affected by this horrible presence in our midst than anything the virus will do to them directly.

Jesus F. Jara is superintendent of the Clark County School District.

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