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VICTOR JOECKS: Sisolak sits on sidelines as schools shut down

Gov. Steve Sisolak hopes you don’t notice he wants to have it both ways on school closures.

On Tuesday, the Clark County School District announced it was shutting schools from last Friday to this Tuesday. It also canceled athletics and after-school activities.

“This five-day pause will promote a safe, healthy learning environment in our schools to ‘Stop the Spread’ in order to continue face-to-face instruction,” the district said in a release.

Translated: We have to close schools in order to keep schools open.

What garbage. It’s also a slap in the face to parents, many of whom still have to work. It can be stressful to find child care on short notice.

The most head-scratching reaction to the school closures came from Sisolak.

“I am absolutely committed to keeping schools open for in-person learning and keeping our students, educators and staff safe,” he said in a statement.

That’s strong, direct verbiage. You’d expect him to immediately follow it up with a demand that the district reverse course. After all, he claims to be “absolutely committed to keeping schools open,” and the district just closed schools for a five-day weekend.

Nope.

“I hope this long weekend will allow staff, students and our hardworking educators to get healthy so they can return to work ready to provide high-quality instruction for our children,” he continued.

Talk about being on both sides of the issue. But Sisolak’s record is clear. He shut schools down and allowed them to stay closed for a year.

Let’s review.

In March 2020, he closed schools. In April 2020, he decided schools should stay closed through the end of the school year. Given what we know now, it was the wrong decision. The risk children face from COVID is vanishingly small. Learning loss is real and has been devastating for many kids. There’s evidence that schools have lower viral spread then surrounding communities, too.

But no one is perfect at the start of a pandemic. Those decisions were understandable.

What happened next wasn’t. In June, he allowed schools to reopen with capacity restrictions. He also gave school districts the option to conduct distance learning during the 2020-21 school year. Unfortunately, that allowed Clark County to go virtual for most of past school year.

That wasn’t the only big news from June 2020. That same month Sisolak allowed casinos to reopen.

“Our casinos, hotels, restaurants and bars are open with strict restrictions so that we can protect our economy,” Sisolak said in prepared remarks in November 2020. “Meanwhile, the majority of school buildings across our state are closed, and our kids are suffering as a result.”

Sisolak’s Nevada: Open casinos, closed schools.

He was right about the suffering. The district struggled to get students Chromebooks. Suicides among district students made national headlines. Just 20 percent of district third- through eighth-graders tested proficient or better in English on the Smarter Balance Assessments. In math, it was 11.5 percent. Scores were down, but just as concerning was that nearly half of students didn’t even take the tests.

But Sisolak — who has shown no qualms centralizing vast amounts of power — left kids languishing. Most Clark County schools wouldn’t reopen for hybrid learning until March 2021 and only for selected grades initially. Some students didn’t have the option to return until April.

That’s unlikely to play well when Sisolak faces voters in November. One of the main reasons Republicans did so well in Virginia and New Jersey last November was that parents were upset about school closures.

Let’s hope this five-day pause isn’t the prelude to a longer shutdown. But it’s another reminder to parents about the governor’s record on this issue. As schools shut down and students suffered, Sisolak sat on the sidelines.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at noon with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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