January 15, 2021 - 7:16 pm
Small groups of Clark County School District students could be back on campuses as soon as late February following School Board approval of a limited reopening plan, Superintendent Jesus Jara said Friday.
No firm timeline was established at Thursday’s board meeting for schools to begin bringing some students back for academic and mental health support under the direction of principals.
But on a media call, Jara said late February or early March — just shy of the anniversary of the closure of Nevada schools by Gov. Steve Sisolak — was a “good target.”
As for a broader reopening for more students under a hybrid learning model, Jara said the COVID-19 positivity rate, mental health and academic data, as well as feedback from principals who implement their small group plans, will help determine the timeline.
That won’t happen immediately after the first students return; Jara noted that plotting bus routes alone takes four to five weeks.
Despite the time crunch, a district representative said bringing all students back to school under the hybrid instructional model before the end of the school year in late May is still on the table.
For now, principals are beginning to work on plans to present to their regional superintendents, who will ensure they take a consistent approach, Jara said.
“I trust and have confidence in all our building principals to do what’s best for their community,” Jara said.
Principals say game on
While they await more details on the requirements for small-group reopenings, principals say they already are thinking about how to approach welcoming students back while balancing distance learning and staff workloads.
At Spring Valley High School, Principal Tam Larnerd said one option would be to bring in seniors who are not on track to graduate. Another would be to host sessions with a counselor for students who are struggling in isolation.
A major consideration for Spring Valley, an International Baccalaureate magnet school, is transportation for students, since the district will not provide buses during the small group phase of the reopening.
“Clearly many of my students live beyond walking distance,” Larnerd said, noting that some live as far north as Centennial Hills and as far south as Mountains Edge Parkway.
At Sierra Vista High School, Principal John Anzalone said the school’s schedule will lend itself to a small-group reopening.
With online sessions wrapping up around 11 a.m. each day, teachers could host in-person groups in the afternoon, provided that they could also be available for virtual office hours. Another option would be to conduct the small group sessions on Wednesdays, when the school currently does only a brief wellness check.
“The caveat … is to not overwhelm the teachers,” he said.
His first step is to work with his administrative team to identify which groups of students will be welcomed back first. Two groups stood out immediately, he said: seniors, and students receiving special education services.
Bringing in the former would allow the school to address students in danger of not graduating, while also helping those who want in-person instruction before taking Advanced Placement exams.
Special education programs, meanwhile, will present a challenge because of the variety of needs they serve, from one-on-one aides to physical support and more.
“You can’t just say, OK kids, come on back, and then not have the personnel and resources ready for them,” he said.
Tyrone Thompson Elementary School Principal Robert Hinchliffe said autonomy is a good step, as one plan would not fit the needs of all schools. But he foresees some animosity within the district, if one principal chooses to bring back 100 students and another brings back only a handful.
“I know I can make the plan work for the students and staff at our school,” he said. “However I hope there are not a lot of unintended consequences districtwide.”
Will teachers return?
The School Board also OK’d a Memorandum of Agreement with the teachers’ union, which specifies that a return to classrooms will be required for prekindergarten to 3rd grade teachers when the district transitions to hybrid learning.
But the district will try to accommodate teachers who want to keep teleworking, according to the memorandum, with priority for those in high-risk groups.
Jara and other district officials have also said the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) is confident that enough teachers will volunteer to return that principals won’t have to order their staff back to classrooms.
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said the union will actively work at the site level once plans are in place to determine which teachers are comfortable returning. The number of teachers needed at each school is ultimately determined by the number of families who choose to return.
Most of the public comment emailed ahead of Thursday’s board meeting asked trustees to keep schools closed, according to the board’s executive assistant Cindy Krohn, some citing a need for vaccines or fears of spreading the disease. Still others wanted to see schools open out of concern that students were falling behind in school.
Newly elected Trustee Katie Williams made the motion to approve the plan after describing it as a working document that’s subject to change depending on district, state and national circumstances.
She said that while she’d like to see schools open full-time immediately , it’s not possible given the current health data. With vaccines now rolling out, she said she hopes the district can re-evaluate the possibility for the fall.
Trustee Danielle Ford, who has been a vocal advocate for a small-group return to campuses, said she was pleased to see a version of her idea come to fruition. Needed now are the details of the plan, she said, in order to help principals plan a successful return.
Some of those details include asking what kind of support they need and how many students they can welcome back, as well as providing the parameters of what each school will be allowed to offer.
In interviews, community members reported mixed reactions about the reopening plan.
Robert Hollowood, a science teacher at Staton Elementary School in Summerlin, said it’s a positive that the school district will take reopening slowly.
As for the decision to bring small groups of students back in person, “I don’t know why we didn’t do it before,” he said.
On a personal note, Hollowood said one of his children is immunocompromised, leading to some mixed feelings. But he added that the benefits of in-person instruction are indisputable, and often can’t be delivered over the distance learning model.
Patty Mitchell, a substitute teacher for the school district for two years, supports reopening classrooms, but wouldn’t support mandating teachers to come back. She said once she received a vaccine, she’ll be ready to return.
Henderson parent Kimberly James, who has four children enrolled in the school district – in grades four, six and 10 – said she’ll stay the course with distance learning despite the board’s decision.
James said her biggest concern is the lack of transportation for students who might need it.
But Henderson parent Jessica Weidner said that while many children are struggling with distance learning, she has reservations about transitioning to a hybrid model because her son is doing well with distance learning.
She said she’s happy, however, to be patient and see how things unfold.
“I think a lot of people have just been waiting for CCSD to roll out a hybrid plan, but maybe not looking at it in context of community health,” she said.
‘Essential’ employees told to return Jan. 25
The Clark County School District is ordering “essential” employees back to campuses on Jan. 25 to help prepare for students to return to campuses as early as next month, according to a district memo sent late Friday.
Essential includes all maintenance, grounds and custodial personnel, as well as any other staff ordered to return by their supervisors to “complete specific tasks that can’t be completed elsewhere,” the memo said.
Staff who have the option to telecommute but would prefer to return to their physical work location also have the option to do so with approval of their supervisors, it said.
The memo also specifically states that all classroom teachers and support professionals “have the discretion to manage their classrooms from home, from their classroom, or a combination of both.”
All district staff, with the exception of some maintenance and custodial crews, have been working from since Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statewide “pause” order in November.