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Clark County schools sticking with its face mask policy — for now

Updated July 20, 2021 - 9:15 am

The Clark County School District is sticking with its face mask policy for the upcoming school year — at least for now — despite calls from local and national health officials for stricter requirements.

“If there are changes to the district’s mask procedures, the changes will be communicated to the community,” the district said in a statement on Monday.

The comment came hours after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that staff and students older than 2 — regardless of vaccination status — should wear a mask at school unless they have a medical or developmental condition that would prohibit them from doing so.

That is stricter than the policy announced by the school district on June 1, which requires face masks for fourth- and fifth- grade students but makes them optional for children in preschool through third grades. Students in sixth through 12th grades and employees aren’t required to wear masks if they’re fully vaccinated under the guidelines, while unvaccinated employees and students are asked to continue wearing them.

The district also said masks are not required outdoors, but they are on school buses.

The new recommendation from the pediatrician group came just three weeks before the nation’s fifth-largest district, with more than 300,000 students, begins a new school year Aug. 9 with full-time in-person classes and a distance learning option.

The school district, which began bringing students back to campuses in three waves starting in March after a year of full distance learning, required face masks for all students and employees this spring.

Reopening plan subject to change

At a July 8 school board meeting, Superintendent Jesus Jara said the district’s reopening plan for the upcoming school year was subject to change based on federal health recommendations.

But local officials, who assumed control of mitigation measures from the state in May, also may have a say. The Clark County Commission scheduled an emergency meeting Tuesday to consider implementing new rules given the recent rise in COVID-19 metrics in Nevada and, particularly, in Southern Nevada.

The move comes as the region has been designated as a “sustained hotspot” for the disease caused by the coronavirus and FEMA surge response teams have been dispatched in an effort to increase the vaccination rate.

On Friday, the Southern Nevada Health District recommended that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear a mask in crowded indoor public places.

The health district follows guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and district spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore said recommendations for local schools are being updated and will match the most recent CDC guidance.

“We recommend that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated,” she said.

That would differ from the pediatricians group’s guidance, which called for masks for everyone older than 2 — not 2-year-olds — regardless of vaccination status.

The 67,000-member academy is recommending universal masking because a significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, it said in a news release.

Many schools don’t have a system to monitor vaccination status among employees and students, the academy said, and some communities have a low vaccination rate “where the virus may be circulating more prominently.”

The academy also strongly urged anyone eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination to get one.

Parent and teacher perspectives

The Clark County Education Association teachers union said in a statement Monday while following CDC guidelines, the district “must take whatever precautions necessary to safely start the new school year.”

Rebecca Dirks Garcia, a parent of three children who’s also president of the Nevada PTA and an administrator for the “CCSD Parents” Facebook group, said parents have been asking for weeks about the district’s mask policy, including who will be responsible for checking an individual’s vaccination status.

Parents in the group, which has more than 14,000 members, are not aligned on the district’s policy, Garcia said, noting some are anti-mask for any age while others want masks to be broadly required.

Despite differences of opinion, Garcia, whose kids are entering the fifth, seventh and ninth grades, said there’s a lot of consistency among parents about wanting schools to operate with in-person classes.

She said her biggest takeaway from the pediatricians group’s recommendation was the need for school buildings to stay open for in-person instruction.

One way to do that is through mask wearing, she said.

“For me and my kids, I will take a mask any day if it means they can be in person,” Garcia said.

Some parents, though, vehemently oppose requiring children to wear masks in school.

Melody Hendry, who has three family members in the school district, told the board at the July 8 meeting that she’d like the mask mandate to be removed for children of all ages, arguing there can be long-term health effects.

Her remarks were met with applause from others in the audience.

Daniel Sandoval, who said he works for a fire department and has three children in the district, also implored the School Board to remove the mask mandate.

“Our kids have been through enough already,” he said, noting it’s difficult for children to wear a mask while trying to learn.

Sarah Comroe, a high school teacher and parent of three children who are going into second, fourth and sixth grades, is on the other side in the debate. She told the Review-Journal on Monday that the district needs to mandate that any person inside a school district building wear a mask regardless of their vaccination status.

The only exception should be those with a medical note or Individualized Education Program accommodation, she said in a Monday message to the Review-Journal via Twitter.

None of her children is old enough to get vaccinated and she said she’s highly concerned about the upcoming school year and COVID-19.

Comroe said the district’s current mask policy is ridiculous for a variety of reasons — mainly, because masks are one of the few mitigation measures schools can utilize in overcrowded and underfunded classrooms, and using the honor system for determining who’s vaccinated won’t work.

She also said little to no direction has been provided in terms of safety protocols, social distancing or room setups for the new school year.

Jordana McCudden, an educator in the district and a parent of three children ages 16, 12 and 10. Her 16-year-old is fully vaccinated, her 12-year-old just had a birthday Sunday and will start the vaccination process soon and her 10-year-old is too young to be vaccinated.

McCudden, who said she’s speaking strictly as a parent, said she’d like the school district to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation.

There have been breakthrough cases among those who are vaccinated, McCudden said. Plus, she said, many students aren’t old enough to even have a choice about getting vaccinated at this point.

Also, there’s no realistic way to know who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t, she said.

McCudden said she has full confidence school district leaders will take different viewpoints into account, and will make a decision that looks out for the best interests of employees, students and their families.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Damon Seiters contributed to this report.