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COMMENTARY: Punishing our children through adult inaction

Just do it! The well-known Nike slogan should be the rallying cry for Clark County School Superintendent Jesus Jara toward bringing extracurricular activities back for our children.

Yes, schools are places of learning, and they, too, should be safely opened. It can be done — in response to the pandemic, North Las Vegas successfully created and has safely operated the Southern Nevada Urban Micro Academy all school year where kids are excelling and instructors are healthy. While district officials figure out how to open schools, we urge them to immediately restart extracurricular activities for children.

Equity demands it.

This pandemic has exposed and widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Children from families with financial means have competed in club sports activities, had private music lessons, hired tutors or attended in-person classes at private schools. This has aided the mental health of the fortunate few, but what about those most vulnerable, who arguably need these outlets even more?

Public school sports and activities level the playing field by providing access to the positive impacts such activities have on children — from improved social skills to increased self esteem to a decrease in youth crime.

The nexus between participation in youth sports and crime is well-documented. The connection between physical activity and psychological health is equally well-established. Sports, in and of itself, is an important tool of equity, promoting respect, conflict resolution, responsibility and tolerance. These ideals are built and reinforced daily by coaches, officials and staff.

These positive interactions have disappeared for Southern Nevada students, except for those with financial means. While students in Nevada’s other 16 districts are back in action, Clark County children remain benched because the district insists sports will not return until face-to-face instruction does.

But extracurricular activities are the reason some kids come to school, and many adults credit these activities as foundational in their life.

Southern Nevada residents have spent countless millions constructing assets as a downpayment on the virtues of sports, yet they sit barren while kids are deprived of interaction, fresh air, exercise and healthy mental stimulation with their peers. The impacts are even more dire for children already struggling. Gov. Steve Sisolak recognized the critical need for children to return to activities, as he outlined in his Wednesday directive: “Re-engaging in sports activity in a balanced way has physical, mental and psychological benefits for youth and adults, including overall fitness and well-being.”

Without extracurricular activities in our public schools, however, only children in club sports and private schools will see these benefits. This is not only unfair, it is unconscionable.

As the school district transitions to a hybrid model for young students, the same consideration must be given to older students struggling more severely with mental health issues, substance abuse and isolation. While the increase in teen suicides has been well-reported, according to recent data from the Clark County coroner’s office, in 2020 we saw a horrific 1,100 percent increase in drug overdoses among children.

Mr. Jara should immediately lift the ban on school sports and activities so that all of our youth, regardless of affluence or ZIP code, get the essential benefits of extracurricular participation. Just do it!

Ryann Juden is city manager of North Las Vegas. Pam Ojeda is the city’s police chief.

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