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Clark County School Board considers small step toward full reopening

Updated January 13, 2021 - 7:03 pm

Almost 10 months to the day after Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered the closure of all schools in the state to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Clark County School Board is expected to decide Thursday whether to allow small groups of students to return to the classroom.

A recommendation to the board by district staff would see schools welcome students back individually or in small groups for academic interventions and socio-emotional support. For both staff and students, this limited return would be voluntary, and individual schools’ plans would be determined by principals. However, transportation would not be provided.

No timeline was included in the presentation posted on the board’s agenda.

The district’s recommendation was originally a single step in a broader plan calling for a transition to hybrid learning that would have slowly brought students back to schools in cohorts. Under that model, students would have taken classes in person for two days a week and learned online for three days a week.

It’s not clear if the board will vote on further steps in the reopening process during this school year, which ends in late May.

The trustees’ conversation will likely center around COVID-19 case data along with the effects of distance learning on both academics and mental health.

Nevada’s COVID-19 positivity rate is well above the threshold recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the lowest risk of disease transmission in schools — a 3 percent or lower two-week test positivity rate, and fewer than five new cases per 100,000 people over the same period.

Nevada on Wednesday reported an a two-week rolling positivity rate average of 21.5 percent, meaning that more than one-fifth of those taking COVID-19 tests are diagnosed with the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The board will have to weigh these case numbers against the impacts of distance learning on students and staff. Additional data from the presentation shows that students received more F grades during the fall semester of distance learning than in fall 2019, with some student groups seeing a sharper rise than others.

Around 18 percent of 10,000 students surveyed also indicated they needed help with a socio-emotional issues.

A similar survey is ongoing among staff.

Except for seven rural campuses, CCSD schools have been shuttered since March 15, when Sisolak ordered them to close as the coronavirus began to spread rapidly in the state.

“Schools may not be open until the state chief medical officer evaluates a public health risk and determines it is safe for each school district to reopen,” he said at the time.

Another order issued June 9 said the state medical officer had determined schools “may reopen subject to the conditions set forth in this Directive and any subsequent directives,” citing a drop in the state’s cumulative COVID-19 positivity rate at the time to 5.4 percent.

The order said school districts may re­open to students, staff and parents for the purposes of in-person instruction, but also specified that districts “may keep any school buildings, facilities, or athletic fields closed to students, staff, parents, guardians or the public at their discretion in the interest of the health and safety of their school community.”

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