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Clark County schools were closed on March 15, 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, Governor Sisolak planned to close schools until April 6, 2020 when cases of COVID-19 began to spike. As the pandemic went on, however, Clark County schools did not end up re-opening at all, electing to do some distance learning until the end of the school year.
During the time period between March 15, 2020 and the end of the school year, many businesses were closed, and the federal government was subsidizing unemployment payments. While essential employees, like doctors, first responders, grocery store clerks, etc. did continue to work, many other employees who worked for businesses subject to the shut-down did not work for a few weeks to a few months. If nothing else, these factors lessened the blow of children being out of school and a lack of summer childcare for many parents.
But Clark County has largely re-opened, and the Clark County school board has submitted plans to the Nevada Department of Education outlining how schools may re-open in the fall. After over five hours of discussion on July 9, 2020, the Clark County school board approved the Clark County School District proposed plans for re-opening, which contains a “hybrid model” that involves in-person school instruction for students two days per week, then distance learning the other three. The plan would also condense yearlong classes to a single semester for middle and high schoolers.
There may also be an option for online-only instruction. Even within the school board, however, there were disagreements as to the best model to use, with some members advocating for all in-person instruction and others calling for continued distance learning for a period of time before in-person instruction begins.
While the plan was submitted to the state for approval, it appears if the state does approve the plan, it will be sent back to the school board for further discussion. On July 15, 2020, the school district received approval to push back the start date for students to begin school from August 10th to August 24th. Though the plan still needs to be finalized, and with this ever-changing pandemic the plan could certainly change in the next month, if this “hybrid model” plan is approved, it could mean complications for parents regarding childcare, parenting decisions, and custody schedules.
The reopening plan that eventually gets approved may have a distance-learning-only option for students. This will likely lead to some parents disagreeing as to whether to send their children to school at all, or to keep them home and, essentially, “homeschool” them indefinitely. The country is divided as to whether schools should reopen at all in the fall before a COVID-19 vaccine is ready to be distributed en masse.
Prior to approving the reopening plan, the Clark County School District released the results of its survey, which was based on over 94,000 responses, including from parents, students, and school staff. Parents surveyed reported they believed enhanced cleaning and regularly scheduled handwashing were the most important factors to considering children attending school in person. Most parents preferred either a full-time return to a regular school schedule, or a full-time return to a regular school schedule but delayed until after Labor Day. The next most popular option was “blended learning” with daily sessions. Less popular choices were blended learning with half-day sessions, blended learning with weekly sessions, a full-time return to distance learning, and a full-time return to the regular school day but on a year-round calendar. According to an article by Sara MacNeil for the Las Vegas Sun, as many as one-third of families in the Clark County School District may elect to have their children stay home full-time and do only distance learning in the fall.
It is to be expected that parents will disagree as to whether to send their child to school for in-person instruction or not. On one hand, many argue that in-person instruction at school is important to not only a child’s academic advancement, but also for their social development. Many also point out that schools offer essential services to children, from regular and reliable meals to access to technology, , mental health services, and special needs accommodations.
Others argue that it is not safe to re-open schools while COVID-19 cases are surging around the country. They contend that it is unrealistic to believe that children, particularly small children, will wear masks and social distance appropriately, even if there are less students inside of a school in general. Further complicating the issue is the fact that a growing number of teachers have stated they plan to retire or find a new line of work if they are told they must return to the classroom this fall out of fear of outbreaks in schools.
This issue could cause conflict in even the most amicable of co-parenting relationships. One parent may want their child to go to school for fear they will fall behind academically and developmentally, while the other parent may fear the child will bring COVID-19 home. Some parents may have elderly or high-risk relatives in the home and worry about exposure. Some parents may work full-time and not have access to reliable childcare and struggle with the notion of their children not being in school.
Assuming the hybrid model is approved, even if both parents agree that model is right for their respective households, disagreements regarding custody schedules appear to be imminent. School administrators have reported already receiving contact from parents asking if their child’s hybrid schedule could be alternated on a weekly basis. Some custody schedules would result in one parent having their child only on in-person learning days, while the other parent always has the child at home. The parent who only has the child during in-person learning days may resent the fact that the other parent gets to spend more time with the child at home. On the other side, a parent who must work outside the home and who only has their child during distance-learning days may feel as though it is unfair that they must incur the cost of childcare while the other parent does not.
In order to successfully co-parent in a time of crisis, empathy is key. It is important for parents to listen to and understand the position of the other parent, even if they do not agree. Then, factors affecting the child’s best interest should be examined. First and foremost, a discussion should be had about the child’s own immune system and whether the child has any medical issues that lead them to be immunocompromised. Parents should also discuss whether any high-risk individuals reside in their households. They should also definitely discuss what happens if their child is exposed and must quarantine – for example, in which household would the child quarantine if necessary?
Parents will also need to discuss whether their current custodial schedule will work with whatever school reopening plan is approved. If the parents decide to send their child to school with the “hybrid” model, they should discuss which one of them is more available to care for the child on their days at home, especially if the other parent works during those days.
No matter the situation between parents, the pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges to everyone, from job loss, to the fluctuations in the stock market, to school closures, to fundamental changes to the way we interact. Ideally, parents should be cooperative and accommodating to each other during these turbulent times in order to help their children best adjust to these changes. If you are experiencing difficulties co-parenting with the other parent of your child and children, an experienced family law attorney can explain your options and help you to effectuate what is in your child’s best interest.

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