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School board hears from anti-racism policy proponents

Updated August 27, 2021 - 6:41 am

The Clark County School Board heard an hour and a half of public comments Thursday about efforts to create an anti-racism policy, mostly from those urging the school district to take action.

Thursday’s meeting was a second consecutive time the board has met at the Clark County Government Center, a larger venue than its normal location.

The meeting room was nearly full and other attendees were in an overflow room, with a couple hundred attendees in total when the meeting began. There was a long line outside the government center just before the meeting started waiting to go through security screening.

Trustees heard an update on developing the Clark County School District’s anti-racism policy. As a presentation was beginning, a man in the audience shouted an off-topic comment: “The masks are a lie.”

Assembly Bill 371 went into effect July, which spurred the school district’s process of drafting an anti-racism policy.

Task force formed

A superintendent’s external anti-racism, equity and inclusion task force has been established and will produce the first draft of the policy in October, said Brandon Moeller, a director for the school district. The policy is proposed for final adoption in January 2022.

A presentation included a percentage breakdown of the 38 members on the task force — 39 percent Black, 34 percent Hispanic/Latino, 16 percent white, 8 percent Asian American and 3 percent American Indian/Alaska Native.

Task force meetings are in the process of being scheduled, said Sam Scavella, an assistant superintendent.

“Critical race theory will not be a part of the discussions or included in any of the professional learning opportunities,” Scavella said.

Addressing critical race theory, Superintendent Jesus Jara said that’s not what the district is teaching in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“That’s a higher ed curriculum,” he said.

The district is teaching state standards, he said. Jara said he knows the anti-racism policy is a priority of the board.

Trustee Lisa Guzman asked about the task force selection process, including the criteria and how it was communicated.

She also asked why no one from Las Vegas’ Historic Westside was included on the task force, which was a concern that arose multiple times during a public comment period. Board President Linda Cavazos said she also shared that concern.

School district officials said it’s a superintendent external task force, not an open meeting setting and it’s operational in nature, and administrators are committed to communicating with all stakeholders.

Cavazos said the district is a couple of generations behind in terms of putting something like the anti-racism policy in place.

Trustee Danielle Ford said she’s happy to see a timeline for the process and hopes the district can stick to it.

Trustee Lola Brooks said she knows the district is getting a lot of heat for not speeding the policy along but thinks it’s more important to do it well than quickly.

Sub shortage

District officials also gave a presentation Thursday on how to address a shortage of substitute teachers.

“COVID-19 exacerbated previous issues of substitute jobs not being filled,” according to online meeting materials, leading to “diminished services to schools and negative impact on students.”

Before the pandemic, the average daily fill rate was about 82.4 percent for the 2019-20 school year. After the return to in-person classes this year, the rate was 62.4 percent.

The recommendation is to contract with Education Staffing Services, which is used by more than 750 school districts across the nation. The target adoption date is October. It could cost $9.5 million per year.

The company would be “responsible for recruitment, hiring, training, placing, and managing qualified teaching and support substitutes,” according to meeting materials.

During a public comment period, multiple school district employees expressed concern with the teacher and substitute teacher shortage, leading to overcrowded classrooms.

Protest before meeting

A group from No Racism In Schools #1865 gathered outside before the meeting to push for the district to move forward with a policy. A group of counterprotesters gathered nearby.

A handful of attendees in support an anti-racism policy held up signs at one point in the meeting, but later stopped. Someone yelled out: “Their signs are too big.”

Kamilah Bywaters, president of the Las Vegas Alliance of Black School Educators, said she’s demanding the policy should be completed within 90 days.

She expressed concerns about the representation on the committee, including that the online application prohibited some from applying.

Cecia Alvarado with Mi Familia Vota spoke in support of the anti-racism policy.

“We’re not asking anymore,” she said.

One woman asked why anti-racism is even on the school board’s agenda. Her microphone was cut off and she was told she was speaking on a topic she wasn’t signed up to address.

One commenter said Jara seems to pride himself on lowering the standards for students. She asked how that helps children, especially when it comes to anti-racism.

“You’re making our kids stupid,” she said. After engaging with the audience, her microphone was cut off.

A few people were asked to leave or escorted out after yelling during a public comment period.

This month, a school board meeting turned contentious largely over criticism of the mask requirement in schools and the board heard a few hours of public comment.

The board called a few recesses and at least 10 people were asked to leave the meeting — some of whom were escorted out by police and one was handcuffed.

The security at Thursday’s meeting was tighter. In addition to police presence and the requirement to go through a metal detector, anyone who left the meeting chambers had to go back through security.

There were also two men standing in the front of the room wearing shirts with a T.A.C. Protective Services logo and a couple more were in the back of the room.

Cavazos said at the beginning of the meeting: “On the decorum, we hope to have a very civil and respectful meeting with everyone having a chance to voice their concerns.”

The board heard from some public commenters about COVID-related topics, but far fewer than earlier this month.

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

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