CCSD lack of transparency leaves lingering questions about COVID-19 sentiment

How widespread are frustrations about possible vaccine mandates for employees? It’s difficult to tell.

By: - September 9, 2021 6:37 am

CCSD has not released verified vaccination numbers and has not acknowledged requests for a breakdown of vaccination rate by employee group.

Almost twice as many Clark County School District teachers utilized sick leave Tuesday than on the same day in 2019, but whether that jump can be attributed to an advertised “call out” in protest of covid vaccine mandates isn’t clear.

And how many total district employees were out Tuesday is unknown.

It’s the most recent of a growing list of unknowns about the fifth largest school district in the nation, which is tasked with educating and keeping safe 320,000 students, most of whom are too young to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to a statement released by CCSD, 813 licensed employees utilized sick leave on Tuesday. That represents less than 5% of the district’s 18,000 total licensed employees.

By comparison, 411 licensed employees utilized sick leave on Sept. 3, 2019 — the day after Labor Day that year. That was less than 2.5% of licensed employees.

The Current requested from CCSD comparable sick leave data for non-licensed employees but received no response. Teachers make up the biggest employee block within CCSD but are still less than half of the district’s total workforce. The district employs approximately 42,000 people. That makes it the largest public employer in Nevada and one of the largest employers in the state. Beyond teachers, the district employs thousands of support staff, school police and administrators — all with varying levels of student interaction.

The Current also requested from CCSD sick leave data from this school year, which may offer a more appropriate comparison to Tuesday’s numbers than pre-pandemic data. The district did not acknowledge or respond to that request either.

Notably, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, overlapped with Tuesday, which may explain some employee absences. The religious holiday did not overlap the day after Labor Day in 2019.

CCSD has reported 771 positive COVID-19 cases among district employees since July 1, according to the district’s public dashboard. Fifty-nine of those cases were reported during the first six days of September.

Approximately 320,000 students are enrolled in the district.

Covid numbers for Clark County as a whole have improved over the last month but remain elevated and cause for concern, say public health officials.

CCSD in its statement releasing the limited data Tuesday noted the myriad reasons why educators might be utilizing sick leave: “such as feeling ill, planned doctors appointments, maternity leave or other planned leave.”

Online flyers promoting a Tuesday callout in support of “medical freedom” — a nebulous term that generally means being against vaccine mandates and masks — circulated social media last week. During a five-hour public comment marathon at a school board meeting last week, several speakers referenced a “sickout” or “callout” protest.

Social media posts suggest the rumors resulted in some parents keeping their children home over concerns about school staffing issues. The Current asked the district whether student absences were elevated Tuesday but, again, did not receive a response.

At least one local media outlet reported parents were experiencing longer-than-normal delays on bus service. Concerns about school bus drivers have been on top of mind for many because the district is already short more than 200 of them.

The Education Support Employees Association, which represents thousands of support staff, released a statement about the planned walkout Tuesday: “ESEA would like to make clear that we did not organize or have any involvement with this planned walk-out or work stoppage.”

According to local media, “a few hundred” or “more than 1,000” people participated in a protest on the Strip Tuesday afternoon. Another is planned for next week.

Unknowns about employee vaccine data

Last week, the Clark County School Board took a step toward mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all of its 42,000 employees. CCSD Chief Negotiator Fikisha Miller told trustees the specifics of the mandate — such as how long an employee might have to comply before losing their jobs — must be negotiated with the district’s various bargaining groups.

CCSD has not released verified vaccination numbers and has said only that 67% of all employees have submitted something into their internal system for verification.

The district has not acknowledged the Current’s requests for a breakdown of vaccination rate by employee group.

School Board President Linda Cavazos in an interview acknowledged that such data exists and has been presented to trustees in closed door sessions, but she said the trustees are not at liberty to release or discuss details because they involve union negotiations.

When asked if there were concerns about certain groups’ rates lagging in vaccination, Cavazos conceded “there are” but did not elaborate.

The Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-Technical Employee President Jeff Horn said Wednesday he did not have updated vaccination rate data but that “weeks ago” the union was told their rate was around 70% and the highest among the employee groups.

“I can only assume it has risen since then,” said Horn.

CCASAPE represents the approximately 1,300 school leaders across the district. Horn added that the union is concerned about the possibility of a vaccine mandate, both because of its potential impact on the district’s workforce and out of personal opposition to employers requiring it.

“If teachers and support staff resign or retire — even 4 or 5% — that could create a nightmare for a district already 800 (employees) short,” said Horn. “Principals are worried about their schools being able to function.”

Horn said discussions between the administrators union and district regarding a vaccine mandate haven’t yet begun.

Neither the Education Support Employees Association, which represents support staff, nor the Clark County Education Association, which represents licensed teachers, responded to the Current’s inquiry about the vaccination rates among the employees they represent.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.