This week, the New York Times published a piece, Surge of Student Suicides Pushes Las Vegas Schools to Reopen, detailing the heartbreaking young lives lost this year, as students have battled both the everyday stresses of school and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As a current Clark County School District teacher and an alumnus of the district, we believe that Superintendent Jara ought not to push his political agenda on the back of such tragedy, and commit to a plan that will allow our schools to safely reopen, rather than rushing our students, teachers, and support staff into an unsafe environment. It’s both dangerous and exploitative to claim that reopening would curb rates of suicide among our students.
Superintendent Jara has repeatedly cited student suicide as a reason to reopen schools, but has given no clear plan to safely do so. Leveraging and exploiting the deaths of our students to push his own political agenda is not only condemnable, it is immoral. We must be quite clear: Simply reopening without a plan will do nothing to curb the rate at which young people are taking their lives.
Students are dying by suicide in Nevada more frequently than in any other state in the country. Even prior to the pandemic, suicide was the most prominent cause of death in 12- to 19-year-olds in Nevada. Suicide is also the second leading cause for Nevadans between the age of 20 to 44. Prior to the pandemic, the Nevada arm of the National Association of School Psychologists attended a CCSD Board meeting to address their overwhelming caseloads and lack of support from district leadership. Currently, there is typically only one school psychologist per 2,200 students. This issue did not appear with the coronavirus pandemic.
During the 2018-19 school year, one of us who teaches at a CCSD high school had three students — out of 14 total — committed for observation following attempted suicide. The problem of student suicide far preempted the coronavirus pandemic. Repeatedly, teachers have advocated for increased mental health resources and professionals in our schools, and were ignored by leadership within the district. Superintendent Jara has repeatedly refused to address the mental health problems in the district. That is, until he could leverage the crisis of suicide to benefit politically.
The other of us has two high school-aged siblings at home, who are struggling to maintain their grades while balancing connecting with friends virtually and maintaining their extracurricular activities. With college scholarships and future acceptances on the line, the stress of managing school and a global pandemic with no end in sight is too much for our young people to bear, and with few mental health resources available to them.
On top of the stresses of distance learning, many students are home in abusive or neglectful situations, or without the resources they need to succeed. This privilege chasm within CCSD ought to have been enough to encourage Jara to create a comprehensive reopening plan, rather than the generic hybrid plan that has been debated unsuccessfully since last summer.
Instead of working with district leaders to craft a solid reopening plan that will allow our students to safely reenter the classroom, Jara instead chose to capitalize on the epidemic of student suicide that has long plagued our district.
This lack of foresight and care for students and teachers was extremely apparent in late January, where the promise of inoculations against COVID-19 was given and then ripped away from teachers and support staff.
We are now almost a year into this pandemic, and not a single reopening plan has been put forth that involves a sufficient level of safety for our teachers or students. If Jara wants to safely reopen, he needs to put the following into action:
- Vaccinate all teachers, administrators, and support staff who wish to be vaccinated
- Mandate and enforce masks for all in school buildings
- Reduce class sizes to maintain social distancing
- Allocate the budget toward sanitation and PPE
In addition to our message to Jara to care more for our students than his political ambitions, we have another: Please reach out to the young people in your life.
(The national suicide hotline number is 800-273-8255. Clark County’s is 702-731-2990. There’s also the Children’s Mobile Crisis Response Team, 702-486-7865)