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COMMENTARY: School Board needs to approve opening classrooms

As we continue to face challenging times, we need leaders who will make tough decisions. Recently, the Clark County Education Association reached a memorandum of agreement with the Clark County School District regarding the hybrid instructional model for prekindergarten through third grade. Our deal supports returning to in-person instruction as safely as possible.

The agreement addresses the three most significant concerns we heard from educators and families: safety protocols, choice and hybrid model instructional supports.

Keeping our students and educators safe is the No. 1 priority. Our agreement ensures that strict safety and social-distancing protocols are in place for students and educators. To maximize safety protocols, educators must follow the Southern Nevada Health District protocol for school reopening and closures. The safety of those who opt to return to in-person instruction must include PPE, contact tracing and random mandatory COVID-19 testing. Gov. Steve Sisolak needs to make vaccinations a top priority for educators who opt to return to in-person instruction and wish to have the vaccine by moving educators to Tier 1 status.

Due to safety concerns across the nation, less than 50 percent of families have opted to return to in-person instruction. Therefore, the choice for families and educators is essential. Our youngest students have struggled with the distance-learning model, and the achievement gaps have widened along racial and economic lines during these challenging times. As a result, some of our historically underrepresented students have been negatively impacted the most by distance learning.

Many of our educators are burned out on the distance-learning model due to the time needed to create and implement lessons that will be both engaging and meet students’ individual needs. They would prefer to have the option to return to in-person instruction safely. Additionally, the district needs to ensure educators have the support and a useful instructional model for educators to meet all students’ needs effectively. We believe the agreement we reached with the district takes that into account so that educators can manage their instruction and students can effectively learn.

Gradually returning prekindergarten through third grade to in-person instruction will help assure plans are in place to deal with any continued challenges that may come into play. An incremental approach will also ensure success and begin the transition to return more students to the classroom — or, in the alternative, if COVID transmission rates increase to unsafe levels, allow for the contraction of schools reopening.

I urge all Clark County School Board trustees to vote yes Jan. 14 on the memorandum of agreement and allow families and educators the opportunity to decide what’s best for themselves.

Marie Neisess is president of the Clark County Education Association.

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