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CCSD students, staff return to schools as ‘pause’ ends

Clark County School District campuses reopen Wednesday with more than 1,000 employees cleared to return to work following a five-day “pause” caused by a severe COVID-19-related staffing shortage.

What’s unclear, however, is how many other district workers may have been sickened or exposed during the break and will be unable to work as a result.

The school district, which has more than 300,000 students and 40,000 employees, said in a news release Tuesday that its nurses used the pause to catch up on a backlog of calls needed to process and clear COVID-19 cases among staff and students.

During the break from Friday through Tuesday, the district said it contacted 1,409 employees and cleared 1,068 to return to work. It also contacted 4,057 parents and cleared 2,324 students to return to school. The break, wrapped around the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, involved only two previously scheduled teaching days, which will be made up on Feb. 7 and April 25.

“We instituted this pause because of staffing shortages and to take advantage of the long weekend so our students, staff, and families could rest and recover,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said in the release. “I applaud and thank all of the nurses who worked diligently throughout the weekend to contact and clear those with concerns to ensure they can safely and confidently return to the classroom on Wednesday.”

Did break result in a net gain?

The release did not, however, indicate how many employees had reported new COVID-19 cases or required quarantines during the break, which coincided with a surge of new cases in the county caused by the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant.

Nor did district representatives respond Tuesday to a request for information on the number of calls made to district hotlines established to allow employees to report new cases or quarantines due to potential exposure or to submit questions about possible symptoms.

Three of the four key COVID-19 metrics for Clark County have skyrocketed since the beginning of the month, and school district data indicate that surge has been reflected in the schools.

Since the resumption of school on Jan. 5, employee absences have been running well above the average for the school year. Between Jan. 6-11, the most recent data provided by the district, the number ranged from 1,826 to 2,147 daily, up from an average of 1,396 previously.

Absences are due to a variety of reasons, including sick and vacation time, so it’s unclear how many of those are related to COVID-19 cases or quarantines.

But student attendance also has been down, last week ranging from 6 to 8.4 percentage points below the 90 percent average for the school year.

The School District’s COVID-19 dashboard gives another view of the trend.

As of Tuesday, a total of 13,697 COVID-19 cases among students and employees have been self-reported to the district since July 1. But 5,323 of those cases — or nearly 39 percent — have occurred this month.

Issues with reporting system

The process established for staff and parents to report cases or possible exposures also has come under fire since the resumption of classes.

Some parents and employees have voiced frustrations about long wait times to access the district’s COVID-19 phone hotlines to report positive cases, exposures or other concerns such as possible symptoms. Others have said they could not get through at all.

The district recently launched online forms, one for employees and one for parents, for anyone unable to get through phone systems.

Some employees say they’ve also faced delays in getting cleared to return to work.

Workers fill out a daily symptom monitoring tool via an emocha Mobile Health app and depending on their responses, they may get a yellow badge that requires follow up before they’re allowed to come to work.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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