Gibson Elementary Cancels Classes Tuesday

Steve Marcus

An exterior view of Gibson Elementary School in Henderson Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. The school cancelled classes on Tuesday due to a shortage of teachers and staff, according to a message sent to parents from Principal Jill Keith.

The days lost to a teacher strike last fall might not be made up because it would be too difficult to have only eight schools open when all the others are closed.

The Clark County School District submitted a request last month to the Nevada Department of Education to waive the state-mandated minimum of 180 days of instruction for Gibson, Sewell, Givens, Woolley, Twitchell and Newton elementary schools, Rogich Middle School, and Southwest Career and Technical Academy high school — the schools that canceled one day of school each during illegal rolling teacher sickouts in September.

“At the eight above listed schools, there was a notable proportion of licensed educators who did not report to work. This deficiency in staffing created an imminent safety concern for the students, ultimately compelling the District to temporarily close the schools until a sufficient number of licensed educators returned,” then-Superintendent Jesus Jara wrote in a Feb. 13 letter to state Superintendent Jhone Ebert, which the Sun received through a public records request. “Due to the unforeseeable circumstances, we request that the District not be required to make up the instructional time missed at these schools due to ‘uncontrollable circumstances’ as cited in (state law).”

Only the state superintendent of schools can grant a waiver to the 180-day minimum.

The closures happened during bitter negotiations between CCSD and the Clark County Education Association teachers union for a new teacher contract. The previous agreement expired last June; CCEA and CCSD did not settle a new one until December.

The calendar that the School Board approved for the 2023-24 school year has 180 school days plus three “contingency days,” which are similar to what people from locales with severe winters know as snow days, but can be used to make up closures called for any reason. When a contingency day isn’t used to make up a canceled school day, students get the day off.

One of the contingency days went unused in November; it was the day before Thanksgiving, which students and staff usually have off as part of the holiday break. The other two, in April and May, are still open.

But the logistics to provide instructional and support services to only eight schools on either of those days are demanding, according to district spokesman Tod Story. So CCSD is seeking permission for students at the schools that had to cancel during the sickouts to get the opportunity for only 179 days.

Also, the May contingency day is May 21, the day after the last day of school — so tapping that day would mean eating into summer vacation.

Jara first wrote to Ebert in late January to seek guidance on how to tackle the makeup issue.

“Due to the unprecedented nature of these circumstances, your guidance is appreciated to address the missed instructional days for the students at these schools before the end of the school year,” he said.

Ebert responded that CCSD had the option to make a written request to her office requesting approval for the strike closures to be counted as emergency closings. She did not indicate if she would approve such a request once she received it, but did say that she looked forward to reviewing the request.

The Nevada Department of Education did not immediately return messages asking if it had, or planned to, approve the request. Story said Wednesday that the district also had not received a response.

Interim Superintendent Brenda Larsen-Mitchell, who assumed leadership after Jara resigned Feb. 23, also supports the waiver, Story said.

A Clark County District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction Sept. 13 to halt the sickouts, which, in addition to the cancellations, disrupted classes at other schools, requiring some students whose teachers were absent to be held in large spaces like gyms for supervision because of the skeletal staffing.

In issuing the injunction, which remains in place, the judge determined that CCEA was responsible for the sickouts — the first public-sector strike since they were outlawed in Nevada more than 50 years ago. CCEA has consistently denied being responsible for the strikes and has appealed the legality of the injunction to the Nevada Supreme Court. The appeal is pending.

The union has also filed a court motion to have Nevada’s anti-strike statute voided, launched a petition drive to put the ability for public school teachers to strike on a ballot, and requested that the injunction be dissolved because the contract is now in place.

All of those actions are also pending.

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