(DailyMail) - Las Vegas schools will reopen for vulnerable students after 18 students killed themselves during the nine months schools have been closed during lockdown.
The surge in student suicides during the final nine months of 2020 has led to the Clark County School District Board to vote unanimously to approve returning some elementary school grades and struggling students for in-person learning.
The youngest student to kill themselves in the county was nine years old, according to Clark County superintendent Jesus Jara.
'When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn't just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,' he told The New York Times.
'We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.'
Jara says the 18 student suicides recorded in the nine months during which schools were closed amid rising coronavirus cases is double the number recorded in the school district in 2019.
In response, the Clark County School Board has approved voluntary, small-group learning which will allow schools to start providing in-person instruction for students who need more support.
But the board did not provide a timeline for implementation, including when principals might be expected to submit their site-specific plans for a limited return.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on students' mental health, with many feeling socially isolated as they attend classes remotely.
Clark County, which includes the city of Las Vegas, has invested in the GoGuardian Beacon alert suicide following the sixth student suicide last year, reports the newspaper. More than 3,100 alerts were made between June and October.
'I can't get these alerts anymore,' said Jara. 'I have no words to say to these families anymore. I believe in God, but I can’t help but wonder: Am I doing everything possible to open our schools?'
'I feel responsible,' Jara said. 'They’re all my kids.'
In response to the high number of student suicides and the mental health challenges of young people in Nevada, charity Hope Means Nevada held a webinar Sunday with students across the state, reports 8 News Now.
'Just not having that physical contact with people is difficult,' said teenager Lauren Edgeworth.
'I know as of two days ago that CCSD cancelled all of its sports, so not being able to have our season is really affecting us negatively. I think a lot of the escapes that we use to have are just being taken away from us.'
'We are not having social interaction and feel like we are missing out on rites of passage — things like prom and homecoming,' said another teenager.
Nevada Senator Marilyn Dondero Loop joined the conversation and announced a mental health bill.
The legislation would allow students to take time off school if they were struggling with their mental health.
The percentage of children aged below 18 years old visiting emergency rooms for mental heath issues has risen during the pandemic, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As schools are moving towards reopening amid rising coronavirus cases, Jara maintained that the health and safety of students and staff are a 'top priority' as the district continues to face challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Clark County School board also approved an agreement with the Clark County Education Association that lays out health and safety guidelines for teachers returning to schools under the hybrid learning model.
The agreement states that teachers will participate in mandatory monthly COVID-19 testing, symptom screening and contact tracing, while the district will provide personal protective equipment.
Nevada is still facing high numbers of coronavirus cases and related deaths. The reported 1,101 new cases and ten deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday. The latest numbers from Nevada health officials bring the state to 271,000 confirmed cases and 4,027 deaths since the pandemic began.
People experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resourcesfor additional resources.
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