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Parents critical of Clark County schools’ family engagement changes

Updated October 14, 2021 - 9:47 pm

Dozens of people at Thursday’s Clark County School Board meeting offered support for the district’s family engagement employees and expressed concern about department changes.

The Clark County School District is restructuring its community engagement office to “revitalize efforts to increase community and family outreach priorities” in line with a five-year strategic plan, according to an Oct. 6 news release.

The office will have several departments, including family engagement, formerly known as Family and Community Engagement Services.

The revamped family engagement department will “empower families by providing increased digital resources and engaging families through increased home calls and visits,” the district said.

But public commenters Thursday said they’re worried about employees who may be displaced and for families who rely on the services.

FACES has been in Title I schools to help students and families with the highest needs, said Jan Giles, president of the Education Support Employees Association union.

She said 29 employees received notices saying that their positions were being eliminated and that they were being surplussed to other jobs. Those employees were the backbone of the program and were left in the dark about plans for the department, she added.

“Keep this successful program intact,” Giles said.

Some workers throughout the school district are reallocated to different sites each fall as a result of enrollment numbers.

It’s publicly unknown how many employees across the school district are being affected by the surplus process this fall. The district hasn’t responded to Review-Journal requests for information since mid-September.

Board President Linda Cavazos said information was posted Thursday afternoon on the school district’s website about FACES changes. She also said a district administrator would be available in a conference room during the board meeting to discuss the changes and answer questions.

Trustee Evelyn Garcia Morales said she’s increasingly concerned there have been assumptions and judgments made about programs, including FACES, without full context. Some information circulating is false, she noted.

She said she’s grateful for the documents the school district released Thursday, noting exciting changes to the family engagement department will allow the district to serve more students and families.

Trustee Danielle Ford said she was a little disappointed not to have a heads-up about the changes as a board member, so she can only imagine what it would be like for those in the program.

In a Thursday update posted on the school district’s website before the meeting, the district said it “acknowledges the hard work of the many employees who have collaborated on both of the FACES and Partnership programs.”

“We are working to place as many of these valued employees as possible into the new unit structure and will work the remainder through our fall surplus process,” according to the statement.

A document released by the district says conversation about the FACES transition was underway since September with bargaining units and that the district is ensuring “as few employees as possible are affected.”

The district said that rumors that 29 support professional jobs will be eliminated are false and that it “will transition as many employees as possible to a new position within the district.”

For those who can’t be transitioned, they will participate in the surplus process, the district said.

Addressing rumors about hiring additional administrators, the district said there will still only be one Director II position under the new organizational structure.

The district also said it’s reviewing data to determine which family engagement centers will remain open but noted it will continue operating at least two in each of the district’s three regions.

The previous model and funding structure didn’t allow FACES to serve all school district campuses, the district said. Last school year, fewer than one-third of schools — 115 of 368 — received support from FACES.

The new department will include staff in each of the school district’s three regions, the district said.

Two parents spoke in Spanish during a public comment period Thursday and a woman translated for them. They said they don’t want to see FACES services disappear, noting families won’t otherwise have the resources to help with their child’s development.

They also talked about how the program helped their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teacher Machelle Rasmussen said it’s unacceptable to shut down a vital program like FACES without communication to families or staff.

She said she was referring families to English classes and parents were calling frustrated with not being able to receive those services. It doesn’t make sense to stop services while the program is restructured, she added.

Using the surplus process is not an acceptable leadership methodology and should be avoided at all costs, Rasmussen said, noting it treats employee lives callously.

Shaun Navarro with Las Vegas Democratic Socialists of America said he’s in support of the FACES program, and making cuts would disproportionately affect working class and immigrant families.

Navarro said many of those parents never stopped working during pandemic and continued to keep the city running, and deserve more access to services.

The board also:

— Had a discussion that spanned about two hours about the School Board trustee zone redistricting process.

The process, which happens every 10 years as a result of population changes, is based on the 2020 census. It doesn’t affect school attendance zones.

A special board meeting is slated for Nov. 4, when a vote may be taken on the trustee zone boundaries.

More than 10 public commenters expressed concerns with how the district’s three proposed maps were drawn, largely related to representation and equity issues. Many said they wanted to see more maps and additional community meetings.

In a written public comment, Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators President Kamilah Bywaters and Vice President Tracey Lewis wrote the proposed maps are discriminatory and the alliance isn’t in support.

“It is apparent that the maps were drawn with a lack of an equity lens,” they wrote. “The proposed maps give white communities control and power over the district, while diluting the Black community, and non-Black people of color.”

Some trustees said they had concerns with the three proposed maps, although they thanked district staff for their work.

Some said the district has legal limitations it’s up against when developing maps, including that it must keep the current sitting trustee in each district.

Trustee Irene Cepeda said it was clear during community meetings in her district that constituents were unhappy with the maps.

“I cringed at some of these at well,” she said.

Cepeda said she would support having different options, noting she can’t support the three maps as they are now.

Trustee Katie Williams said she supported the proposed maps and thanked staff for their work.

Trustee Lola Brooks said staff revealed to her in a briefing that a fourth map was in the works prior to the first three maps being presented to the community.

It’s clear if someone directed staff to create a fourth map, Brooks said, noting that’s a problem for her and she thinks it’s unethical.

Later during the meeting, Trustee Ford said she felt that was a big assumption to make.

During her comments, Brooks said the School Board collectively is in charge of the redistricting process.

Brooks said she’d be in support of another map but noted the board needs to talk about what trustees want to see in that map.

She said she doesn’t think the public cares that much about the maps, but noted she understands those who came to the meeting Thursday for the presentation and to comment do.

Cavazos said later in the meeting she disagrees with the assertion the community doesn’t care about the process.

— Didn’t vote on a memorandum of agreement with local municipalities for an “open schools open doors” policy regarding the use of school facilities. The board plans to bring the item back at a future meeting.

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

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