The Clark County School District’s relaxed COVID-19 mitigation guidelines will mean fewer restrictions on playgrounds for children during recess.
In an announcement to employees, the district said updated guidelines — which were approved by the Southern Nevada Health District — were to go into effect Wednesday.
Changes under Clark County’s current low COVID-19 transmission status include removing the requirement for “cohorts” or groups of students to stay only in their designated peer group during recess and to other outdoor activities.
Some parents had expressed concerns about the district’s previous policy, which included students having to turn off playground equipment use days while others were assigned to spaces such as basketball courts and lands.
Las Vegas parent Karlee Phelps created a Change.org petition last month – which garnered around 1,800 signatures – calling on the school district to allow elementary students access to their playground every day and classes to mix.
Phelps told the Review-Journal on Wednesday that she felt validated that the district quickly changed its guidelines.
“My reaction was nothing but joy and excitement for the kids,” she said of the new direction.
Phelps said her daughter, who is in third grade, and her son, who is in kindergarten at Darnell Elementary School in northwest Las Vegas, are thrilled to be able to make friends from other grades now.
Phelps also said her children would be more active in school, which would translate into better ability to concentrate in class.
Phelps said she understands the changes would be a bit difficult for school administrators to implement in terms of rearranging recess schedules, but hopes it can happen soon so students can begin to benefit.
The school district, which has more than 300,000 students, announced the relaxation of COVID-19 guidelines as the number of cases has declined in recent weeks.
Last month, Gov. Steve Sisolak lifted a state mask mandate, and the school district said the same day it would no longer require masks indoors.
District changes announced this week include looser restrictions on playgrounds, no longer requiring face masks on school buses, and no longer requiring unvaccinated employees — as well as some students who participate in activities such as athletics – to undergo weekly COVID-19 tests.
Some COVID-19 mitigation measures remain in place, however. This includes continuing contact tracing; requiring seating plans for classrooms and for school breakfasts and lunches; requiring employees to use the emocha Mobile Health daily symptom monitoring tool before reporting to work; and schools with separate rooms for the “sick” and the “well.”
The district said in a statement to the Review-Journal on Wednesday that, based on the declining COVID-19 test positivity rate in Clark County and multiple conversations with the health district, the recommendation was made to ‘eliminate cohorts for recess and outdoor activities “due to the limited risks of outdoor spread” with the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some COVID-19 mitigation strategies are still needed “to use to help monitor our current status and be prepared to make adjustments to ensure we continue to provide as safe in-person instruction as possible to our students,” said declared the district.
The district said it will continue to monitor test positivity rates, research and future recommendations from the Southern Nevada Health District and the CDC to determine next steps.
How a school manages lunch and recess
At Tate Elementary School in the northern Las Vegas Valley, the school now allows every grade level to run free during recess – with students allowed to mingle with other classes and use any schoolyard area – following updated district guidelines.
Students work hard during the day and need a break from going out, principal Sarah Popek said Wednesday. “Recess is very important in elementary school.
Classroom teachers at Tate are still supervising during daily recess — a change made this school year due to the pandemic — and indoor dining protocols remain the same, she said.
The school revised its main schedule in August so that only one grade level was in the dining hall at any given time. Students are indoors for the entire 30-minute lunch period, then outside for 10 minutes of recess.
Inside the dining hall, each “cohort” of students – a class – is seated together, and each child is three feet apart, designated by stickers on the tables. There is at least six feet of space between each class.
The school created a social distancing recess master plan, which assigned each class a designated area on or near the basketball courts. The school provided balls and chalk for the students.
The school plan also allowed students to stand in the shade, if necessary, in designated areas.
There was a rotating schedule that gave each class a “playground” day once every six days and a “field” day once every six days.
The custodial teams cleaned playground equipment between meal times.
With teachers supervising during recess, it gave them a chance to interact with students in a different way, Popek said. For example, some fifth-grade teachers played basketball with their students.
She said she realizes it’s 10 minutes of wasted teaching time, but it’s an opportunity to develop and strengthen social skills. And with increased teacher supervision, there have been far fewer incidents of behavior among students during recess, she added.
Playground rules were also not as strict as when classes resumed in spring 2021 after a year of distance learning due to the pandemic.
At the time, each student at Tate had their own plastic bag for recess which included two pieces of chalk, a ball on a string and a skipping rope. Students could not share equipment and had to stay two meters away from their classmates.
Parent Concern About Playground Policies
Some parents have expressed concerns in recent months about the school district’s playground restrictions.
At a school board meeting in early February, parent Richard Meyers said his 9-year-old son had not been allowed daily use of the playground at his elementary school.
He also said basketballs had recently been removed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and students were wearing dirty socks and using water bottles instead.
Phelps voiced his concerns at a school board meeting in late February. And last week, she told the Review-Journal that easing restrictions on playgrounds shouldn’t cause contact tracing issues if someone tests positive for COVID-19.
“I believe recess is one of the safest things to normalize because it’s outdoors and students only mingle for very short periods of time,” she said.
Phelps began to look into the district’s playground policy after her daughter came home from school one day and said her class was only allowed to use playground equipment on Thursdays. On other days they were assigned to different sections of a field.
Phelps said she found schools in the district were not consistently enforcing COVID-19 playground guidelines. “The CCSD guidelines are somewhat ambiguous, so principals apply them differently.”
She said last week she received correspondence from district officials, who told her they were working on updates to COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.
Parents were frustrated, Phelps said, noting it’s been weeks since the mask mandate was lifted and they’re ready for more changes.
“Play is a mitigation strategy and we need to shift our focus from restrictions to collaborating on how to promote student health and wellbeing,” she said.