1-on-1 with CCSD Superintendent: Campus security and COVID-19 safety in the new school year
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) - More than 300,000 students return to class next week at Clark County School District, and with the new year comes new questions and concerns from families, particularly when it comes to the intersection of COVID-19 safety and campus security.
In the wake of a school year marked by intensifying school violence, a vicious attack on a teacher at Eldorado High in east Vegas and the Uvalde massacre in Texas, campus security is proving a top concern for families right now.
We took your questions straight to the top by sitting down one-on-one with CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara.
We started by asking him which of his announced security enhancements he feels will make the biggest impact to curb the violence.
“The instant alert that we piloted... we’re bringing to the board a full recommendation on the one that we selected, so we’ll see that on Thursday,” said Jara. “Our principals are trained with emergency management and safety, and so it’s a collective. And our staff is ready, really, to address the culture and climate, to make sure that kids are focused, coming to learn. Coming to work, our police officers are trained for, you know, partnering with all the agencies to be ready to respond.”
Jara said he is confident in his multi-layer approach, which includes asking parents to be more involved in their kids’ lives; urging them to check their students’ bookbags before they leave for school each day.
Last week, we reported that teachers said they received guidance from the district, that during high community levels like we are seeing now, to keep “open doors to outside,” to increase ventilation and airflow in classrooms due to COVID-19. But Jara said after that memo was sent, he clarified to staff what he meant by that.
He said they meant opening doors in large-scale gatherings, like assemblies. For security purposes, he clarified that staff have since been instructed to keep all doors to their classrooms closed, including windows.
“We sent a clarification message to all our schools after that,” said Jara. “All classroom doors are gonna be closed, and that’s part of the training we did with our principals.”
You might remember last school year, in January, when classes had to be canceled for a “five-day pause” during the Omicron wave because there was not enough healthy staff to operate the schools. A concern we’re hearing from CCSD staff: with relaxed mask and testing requirements this upcoming school year, how can people be sure that similar schedule disruptions will not happen again?
Jara responded, “The mitigation strategies we have in place, I feel confident in the work that we’re doing with the Southern Nevada Health District. Ya know, we’re highly recommending masks, if children and staff feel uncomfortable in classrooms. So that’s something that we’ll continue to monitor. We’ll continue with Emocha. That’s ongoing. I mean, I can’t guarantee, but we’re gonna do everything in our power-- as Superintendent and staff with the board-- to keep our schools open.”
One of the issues affecting security is the district’s difficulty with the school staffing shortages, which have plagued school districts across the nation.
We first brought you the stories from licensed, highly qualified substitute applicants who said they were being denied the chance to interview for the position, essentially without reason. After the story, one of those applicants said a CCSD employee from Substitute Services called them back this summer to try and rectify whatever issue may have barred her application from consideration before. She added that two employees told her they were making it a point to call previous applicants over the summer.
Amid the staffing issues, we asked Jara about their review of hiring practices because a new Chief of Human Resources, Carol Tolx, started this summer.
“I said, ‘Carol, fix it,’ and she’s doing a phenomenal job. I’m happy she’s here,” said Jara.
“Have you seen changes being made to the practices?” we asked.
“Absolutely, absolutely, because she’s questioning a lot of different things.” He added, “It’s going back and looking at systems. It’s been two months, so we haven’t seen much. I think it’s the level of energy and questioning a lot of practices. It’s going to take her a good year to get ahold of the HR.”
Fraught with concerns over COVID-19, teachers recently spoke out to FOX5 questioning why the district has not yet equipped the district’s 19,000 individual classrooms with air purification systems like they would a desk or a white board-- especially considering CCSD was allocated $777 million in American Rescue Plan ESSER funds for such things during the pandemic.
It’s a question we relayed to Jara.
“The community called out for the priorities that we have,” he responded. “Investing in our technology, investing in professional learning... so, that entire plan... and we’re using some of that money for facility purification, but, it’s the community’s plan, and we prioritize what the community wanted.”
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