The Nevada State Education Association represents a majority of educators across the state, with members in every Nevada school district including teachers, other licensed education professionals, and education support professionals (ESPs) who provide vital services to students in Nevada’s public education system. In NSEA’s 120-year history, there have been few more challenging times than the one we find ourselves in right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. We appreciate the work of this committee and the legislature during this time of crisis.
After school buildings were ordered closed last spring, NSEA members quickly responded, with classroom teachers engaging their students in distance learning and food service workers on the front lines, providing meals to families in our districts. This semester, our members are responding in a diversity of ways depending on their district and the status of the COVID-19 crisis in their communities. Some educators are back at their school building offering in-person instruction. Others are working in hybrid models, juggling in-person learning with distance learning opportunities. Many others, including in Clark County, are working to create meaningful education experiences through full distance-learning.
Last summer, NSEA supported the work of the Department of Education to develop “Nevada’s Path Forward: A Framework for a Safe, Efficient, and Equitable Return to School Buildings”. We felt this was the proper framework, along with consultation with local health districts, to safely reopen and operate school buildings this school year. Educators, as much as anyone else, appreciate the importance of returning to school for in-person learning. Distance education is not an ideal replacement for in-person, classroom learning for most educators and students, and educators are concerned about the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on education equity. Top concerns with full distance learning include providing the same level of education for all students, the complexity of teaching students with disabilities, and absenteeism. Also, most educators find distance learning and hybrid models more difficult with more time required to teach the same lessons.
However, educators have also been very concerned about their health and the health and well-being of students. NSEA has consistently raised concerns that districts lack the resources needed to follow the recommendations to safely open and operate school buildings during this pandemic, and we continue to advocate for additional resources school counselors, social workers, and psychologists to meet the mental health needs of our students. For our communities hardest hit by COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we have felt strongly that educator access to vaccinations is a critical step to safer operation of school buildings. That is why NSEA asked the Governor to make educators a priority in his vaccination plan. While the availability for educators has varied by county, vaccination appointments are finally available for educators in most parts of the state.
While we are hopeful classrooms across Nevada will be able to safely be open for in-person learning soon, we also remember our challenges from even before the pandemic. Despite many eﬀorts to address under-funding, Nevada continued to rank near the bottom of states in most metrics. In the 2020 Quality Counts report from Education Week, Nevada ranked 47th in School Finance and 50th in their overall “Chance for Success” index. And we all know Nevada has the largest class sizes in the county. There is much work to do, and NSEA stands ready to work with this committee on the challenges ahead. Thank you.