Nevada lawmakers fund teacher testing plan as schools reopen

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Nevada lawmakers allocated $6.2 million in federal relief to a program that will test thousands of teachers across the state as they return to classrooms for in-person instruction.

The program will pay for personnel, test kits, test processing and surveillance for up to 62,500 teachers and support staff throughout Nevada. It will be administered by the Clark County Teacher's Health Trust, the largest public school employee health plan in the state.

Throughout the United States, coronavirus cases have spiked in school districts that have opened for in-person instruction, including in Washoe County, where students and teachers at 16 schools in the Reno area have tested positive for the virus since returning to classrooms in mid-August. The district has made free testing available to teachers through the Renown Health hospital network.

In Las Vegas, the Clark County School District has reopened public schools for remote learning only. Both administrators and teachers' union leaders said a robust testing program was essential to returning students to the classroom.

Clark County Education Association President John Vellardita said, out of the 18,000 teachers in his district, the union had tracked 731 total tests since March, of which 599, or 82%, had tested positive even though teachers have yet to return to classrooms.

"We're not going to open up these schools unless we have a robust comprehensive safety program in place. This is one of them," Vellardita said of the testing program.

The Clark County School District has identified 169 adult cases and 27 student cases over the same time period.

Clark County School District is the country's fifth largest. Other large districts have gone different directions with their testing plans. In Los Angeles, the school district is aiming to test all students and teachers after Labor Day. In New York, the school district is aiming to test at least 10% of students and teachers on a monthly basis.

Elsewhere in Nevada, schools in Elko, Humboldt, Mineral and White Pine County will reopen next week with a mix of in-person and distance instruction.

The total cost of the program is $13.2 million and the Department of Education will return to the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee in 30 days to request approval to release the rest of the funds.

The program will aim to test teachers two weeks prior to reopening for in-person instruction, and teachers will be able to return for multiple tests if needed. Teachers in rural districts will be able to mail their tests to a processing site to expedite results.

Michael Skolnik, the CEO of the Clark Teachers Health Trust, likened the program to fire prevention.

"We know you always need to have a smoke detector. You need to have an alarm, and then you have to be able to put that out for contact tracing, and that's the fire extinguisher," he said. "We're trying to build those three pieces so we can move forward."

Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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