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Health district will back board if it votes to reopen schools

Updated October 22, 2020 - 9:13 pm

The Southern Nevada Health District will support reopening Clark County schools should the school board vote to do so, even if local health data hasn’t met ideal conditions, acting Chief Health Officer Fermin Leguen said at a meeting Thursday night.

A vote on a plan to transition the district to some in-person instruction was not scheduled for Thursday’s board meeting but is expected to take place at the Nov. 12 meeting. There is no timeline or target date for returning.

Leguen on Thursday gave COVID-19 updates for the third time to the Clark County School District board of trustees, saying he believed it was unlikely the county would reach levels designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as presenting the lowest risk for reopening schools — among them, a 3 percent or lower positivity rate over two weeks.

The health district reported a 9.6 percent positivity rate over a two-week period on Thursday.

Leguen said that when he first presented to the board in September, the case rate in Clark County had been trending down, and he expected the county to reach acceptable levels for reopening in schools in four to six weeks — if nothing new happened.

“Unfortunately, something new happened,” he said. “Our trend has gone up.”

If the school district decided to reopen in the hybrid model that sees students attend class two days a week and learn from home for three days a week, Leguen said, the health district would be supportive.

“My recommendation is that if that’s the path the school district takes, we will support that,” Leguen said in response to a question from board Vice President Linda Cavazos. “The reason I’m saying this is that I don’t see the numbers … will come any closer to the levels this (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) table recommends.”

If schools did reopen, the health district and the school district would have to engage in more mitigation activities, enhancing such measures at schools, Leguen said. He added that University Medical Center’s leadership felt confident that they could test all the district’s teachers and support personnel every two weeks at a rate of 4,000 employees per day.

Leguen said the rate increase in Clark County could be attributed to travel on Labor Day, as well as the lifting regulations on gathering sizes in Nevada over the past few weeks and colder weather allowing the virus to last longer.

According to Leguen, two children have died of COVID-19 in Clark County.

Transition plan in November

Following Leguen’s presentation, Superintendent Jesus Jara emphasized that there is no set timeline or target date for a return to schools. He said that staff were interested in the board’s feedback before presenting a transition plan to hybrid learning in November.

A potential return to schools outlined in the presentation would begin with essential employees reporting to work locations, the phased transition of remaining staff, followed by the phased transition of students to the hybrid learning model and then the full-time return to schools.

Trustees gave a long list of questions for district staff to consider when creating a plan. Board President Lola Brooks suggested prioritizing a return for smaller groups of students, or for students with the greatest need, while finding ways to limit interactions between cohorts.

Brooks said she was in no rush to get kids out of her house, but that she recognized the socio-emotional consequences of the pandemic.

“I also recognize that community health is our number one concern, so I don’t think we should rush into something without having it meticulously planned out,” Brooks said.

Trustee Deanna Wright said she wanted to see granular details on any plan to return to schools, including how much personal protective equipment each employee would be given, how students would enter and exit schools, who would clean classrooms every night and what kind of supplies would be provided to them.

Trustee Danielle Ford said she would also want to see air quality studies done on school campuses.

Ford also requested an overview of what distance learning would look like for the rest of the year, in the event that the district is unable to reopen schools, including a list of community options to support students’ mental health.

Cavazos asked for an analysis of the impact of Leguen’s new recommendations, specifically about possibly reopening schools amid a high COVID-19 case count in the community.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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