The Clark County School District announced Tuesday that it’s canceling classes from Friday until the middle of next week due to “extreme staffing shortages” caused by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The district called the break a “five-day pause,” though it will only mean two days of missed classes since it includes a weekend and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. No remote learning will be conducted on the canceled school days, the district said.
“This five-day pause will promote a safe, healthy learning environment in our schools to ‘Stop the Spread’ in order to continue face-to-face instruction,” the district said in a news release.
All activities, athletics and Safekey are canceled during the break, the district said. In-person classes and activities are slated to resume Jan. 19.
An email to parents said students who wish to receive free school meals during the break will receive extra servings to take home, with more information to be provided later in the week.
The district’s statement did not address why the decision was made to wait until Friday to cancel classes.
Makeup days scheduled
The district said students will have classes on Feb. 7 and April 25 to make up for the two lost school days. The date in February was previously a contingency day, while the April date was originally a staff development day.
Employees will participate in a staff development day Friday and are required to work from home. And all staff assigned to work on Tuesday must work from home, the district said.
The nation’s fifth-largest school district, with more than 300,000 students and 40,000 employees, resumed in-person classes on Jan. 5 after winter break.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement that he knows many families will be disappointed by the school district’s decision.
“Let me be clear, I am absolutely committed to keeping schools open for in-person learning and keeping our students, educators and staff safe,” he said.
“There is no substitute for having kids on our campuses, learning in classrooms with their teachers and peers. And I will use every resource I have as governor of the State of Nevada to keep schools open for in-person learning. I know the School District leadership shares this same goal.”
Sisolak said he expects that school district leaders will continue to meet and make plans to ensure students don’t fall further behind academically and “make sure schools have and use the tools they need to continue uninterrupted in-person learning going forward.”
Public health officials and representatives of the school district’s unions were generally supportive of the “pause.”
Many parents were still absorbing the news late Tuesday, but some speculated that they the break could lead to another stint of remote learning.
“Everyone at school is doing the best they can but the fact is that so many teachers are sick that they can’t find substitutes to cover the classes,” Parent Lea Jonic said in an email to the Review-Journal.
It’s uncharted territory and there are difficult decisions to make, Jonic said, adding that she feels for those who are making them.
“They are criticized no matter what they do,” she said.
485 new COVID-19 cases in a day
On Tuesday, the district’s online COVID-19 dashboard showed 10,596 COVID-19 cases reported since July 1 among students and employees. That included an increase of 485 cases from Monday.
The district has reported 2,272 cases so far this month.
The dashboard is based on reports the district receives of positive cases via two hotlines for employees and students, which are input into the system by school nurses.
The school district has reported above average absence rates over the first days of school.
On Wednesday, the district had 1,643 employee absences and an 83 percent student attendance rate. On Thursday, 1,875 employees were out, while the student rate remained about the same.
That’s compared with an average rate so far this school year of 1,396 employees absent and 90 percent student attendance.
Attendance rates since Thursday haven’t yet been released by the district.
While the disease is spreading in schools, Southern Nevada Health District data indicates that serious consequences among students are rare if they become ill.
Children ages 17 and younger make up nearly 14 percent of total COVID-19 cases in the county — a rate that has risen slightly in recent months — but just 2 percent of hospitalizations. Six deaths have been reported in the county for that age group.
On the first day of classes last week, the district’s central office deployed 26 employees to help at 15 schools. It’s unclear whether that has continued since.
In a message to parents last week, the district said it will “proactively monitor school staff absences” and deploy central office employees to help at schools if necessary.
Already grappling with staff shortage
The district was already grappling with a worsening staff shortage before the more-contagious omicron variant of the new coronavirus piled on.
As of mid-December, the district was already short about 850 licensed employees and hundreds of support staff. Due to a lack of substitute teachers, some teachers were “selling” their prep periods to cover vacancies long term or on a day-to-day basis.
That forced principals to combine some classes and, in some cases, move dozens of students to large spaces like the school gym or auditorium to work on lessons on their laptops.
The district operated with 100 percent distance learning for about a year beginning in March 2020 due to the pandemic before bringing students back to campuses in spring 2021 — full time for elementary schools and a mix of in-person and remote instruction for middle and high schools.
This school year the district has conducted full-time in-person learning, while offering an online option through its Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD.