As the Clark County School District prepares to enter the new school year with entirely virtual classes, the agency overseeing the regional response to the coronavirus pandemic is scrambling to locate places for tens of thousands of students to learn outside the home.
As many as 100,000 students, or roughly 28 percent of children enrolled in the fifth-largest district in the U.S., may need such accommodations to account for working parents and other scenarios that make home-based learning challenging if not impossible, according to Clark County Commission Chairwoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
“Where else can we put these children that have to have a place to go?” Kirkpatrick said on Friday.
The county’s Multi-Agency Coordination Center, which consists of public safety, health care, education and government agencies in Southern Nevada tasked with handling the local coronavirus response, is now trying to answer that question.
Potentially costly approach
But the preliminary solution will not come cheap: Kirkpatrick said it could cost the county and local jurisdictions up to $135 million to secure locations for that many students through nine weeks at an estimated price tag of $30 per student per day.
She said the center is planning as if the remote-learning model approved by the school board Tuesday would last through the first quarter of the school year, even though trustees have requested updates on the status of the pandemic every 30 days.
Kirkpatrick said the student estimate is based, in part, on a recent district survey that found parents strongly supported a full-time return to in-person schooling.
Officials are reaching out to a broad range of groups in an effort to find facilities, acknowledging that currently available space is not enough to fully support the district’s reopening plan. Kirkpatrick said discussions about additional assets have thus far been had with nonprofits and the private sector.
Kirkpatrick pens letter
In a letter Tuesday on behalf of the Multi-Agency Coordination Center to school board trustees requesting use of school facilities to “allow broader access to childcare in the Southern Nevada community,” Kirkpatrick said the present student capacity for before- and after-school programs, run by local governments and supported by school sites, was a little more than 14,000 across the valley.
And there is space for about 3,100 in full daycare.
While Kirkpatrick said the school district made it clear it did not want to open up its facilities, the district said in a statement Friday that the school board, “has not had enough time to fully consider the points made by the MACC at this time.”
The district did not offer any new solutions to child care on Tuesday, saying it would work with municipal partners on a fix.
“It’s a priority that we have to do for the best interest of our children, and we will just keep plugging forward,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have a lot of great people at the table.”
‘A lot of space’ needed
The race for more facilities and staffing, which would need to include plans for transportation and meals, is difficult enough based on the sheer volume but made more complex by social distancing rules.
“That’s a lot of space that has to be taken into consideration,” Kirkpatrick said.
As outlined in the letter to the school board, Kirkpatrick on Friday raised other concerns about a home-based model: Access to technology and healthy meals, student mental health and the availability of creative methods to ensure students kept up with studies.
Officials are not seeking babysitters, she added, “but at the same time people have built their livelihoods around having their kids in an educational component during working hours.”
Kirkpatrick also acknowledged there existed “a very fine line ” between establishing facilities for tens of thousands of students and simply opening up schools. But then she pointed to how it was the school board’s decision to adopt the remote-learning model.