Sisolak allows schools to reopen while following social-distancing requirements

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A TV videographer is framed around Gov. Steve Sisolak while he gives an update on coronavirus during a news conference in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 15, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

By Jackie Valley

https://thenevadaindependent.com

Operations have resumed at restaurants, salons, shopping malls and casinos after a nearly three-month shutdown triggered by COVID-19, but the biggest challenge may be yet to come — reopening schools.

Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday signed an emergency directive allowing schools to reopen while meeting social-distancing protocols, but it’s not mandatory: Summer learning opportunities could be provided through distance education, in-person learning or a combination of both. 

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The directive also requires districts, charter schools and private schools to develop plans for reopening their facilities for the upcoming academic year. Those plans must be made public and approved by a governing body at least 20 days before the first day of the 2020-2021 school year.

“For the last three months, our students, families and educators demonstrated tremendous flexibility and resiliency when asked to stay at home and switch to distance learning to flatten the COVID-19 infection rate curve. I know this hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud Nevadans took this seriously,” Sisolak said in a statement. “This directive will allow schools to return to a sense of normalcy while keeping the health and safety of students and staff at the forefront.”

But a 48-page document released Tuesday by the Nevada Department of Education illustrates just how complex of a task that will be. The framework doesn’t offer mandates. Instead, it lists dozens of considerations school leaders must take into account while planning for the return of students and staff.  

“We hope the Framework will serve as a starting point for conversations. It is not formal guidance or a directive,” Re-Opening of Schools Committee members wrote. “While we hope that the Framework will be a valuable resource, districts and schools may apply the concepts and guidelines of the Framework at their discretion and as relevant to local circumstances.”

The document raises a plethora of questions district or school leaders should consider as they craft reopening plans. Among them:

  • What will social distancing look like inside a school bus?
  • Will health screenings or temperature checks exist at schools?
  • How will districts or schools handle staff members who are part of vulnerable populations?
  • How will social distancing be achieved in classrooms?
  • Could teachers rotate among rooms to reduce student traffic flow through the school?
  • How will schools support students or staff grieving the loss of a loved one or the separation of a loved one because of a hospitalization?
  • How will breakfast and lunch procedures be handled?
  • Will playgrounds be open or closed?

The framework also lays out three possible reopening scenarios: a statewide reopening, a partial reopening based on local decision-making or a blended reopening that includes distance and in-person learning. 

Reopening is a relative term, though. The framework asks districts to consider various calendar and scheduling options, such as a year-round or alternative schedule, ending the first semester at Thanksgiving and starting the second semester in late January, and staggering in-person attendance days with online learning for smaller groups of students.

The committee also suggests that schools form contingency plans for potential future COVID-19-related closures.

A separate guidance memo for schools reopening for summer learning activities echoes a lot of the same points in the framework. For instance, it says desks should be spaced 6 feet apart, school supplies should not be shared among students unless sanitized between uses, and students should not dance, sing, play wind instruments or participate in physical education because of the risk of spreading the virus through respiratory droplets.

With summer now well underway for most students and staff, the calendar is inching ever closer to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. The Clark County School District is scheduled to resume classes Aug. 10.

Clark County School District officials did not immediately respond to a request about their plans for summer learning activities.

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