13 Investigates


Open Schools, Open Doors: Do benefits outweigh risks?

Posted at 3:30 PM, Nov 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-05 13:57:52-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas elementary school playgrounds roped off, too hazardous for students to play on.

"Some have been roped off for years," Trustee Linda Young said at the Oct. 17 school board meeting. "Keeping students and staff away because it's absolutely dangerous!"

High school football fields not maintained or safety tested, shut down, too hazardous to accommodate even a single home game.

"My concussions had gone up 300%. I think we had like 15 concussions last fall," said Rancho High School Athletic Director and Vice Principal Gabby Crawford.

Graffiti that just cost Spring Valley High School $400 to fix.

"That comes right out of our budget for kids," said Principal Tam Larnerd.

Despite all of that, Clark County wants to open select school campuses across the Las Vegas valley to the public for recreational use of playgrounds, parking lots, athletic fields, tracks, courts and stadiums.

"In a perfect world I would love that," said District F Trustee Danielle Ford. "I love the picture of it. But in a practical world, I don't think it's in the best interests of our students, teachers, staff or community."

Ford's opinion may end up taking a back seat to the back room politics in play.

13 Investigates learned that if the trustees don't agree, commissioners have threatened to withhold sales tax funding that's supposed to go to schools for pre-kindergarten, truancy and absenteeism programs.

"Is it fair to hold the funding hostage and say, 'Quid pro quo, this for that, pass this or else you don't get your money?'" Darcy Spears asked County Commissioner Justin Jones.

"Well," Jones responded, "we already voted on it. There are certainly discussions about open doors, open schools. I think we made it pretty clear to the school district that we want to be partners and that's what we're doing."

"Why is it necessary to do this?" Spears asked County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick. "Is there not enough green space? Parks? Have too many development permits been granted without preserving enough space for community use?"

"So what I can tell you... We can't go backwards, but we can go forward," Kirkpatrick said, "and it's important that kids have the opportunity to have recreation."

The proposed agreement sent to the Clark County School District Board of Trustees would have certain school campuses open after school hours until dusk, and from dawn to dusk on weekends, holidays and school breaks.

Principal Larnerd said, "I don't have the staff that can provide security for this stadium facility all weekend long. I don't have the staff that can be here at 6 a.m. that can open it up in the morning and back on Sunday afternoon at 6 p.m. at sunset to close it up."

RELATED: Examining a possible blind spot in CCSD school security

"I mean, these are the things..." said Larnerd. "If the county wants to use this land -- I don't own this land, this is the people's land -- but we need to make sure our kids are safe."

The devil is in the details, says CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara.

"I think we're getting into a sticking point as to who, what, when and the budget. We have a finite dollar amount in how we take care of it."

The proposal says there is "no funding" for continual security.

"To do this right now, where we are, I think is very reckless," said Trustee Ford. "What if someone stores a weapon? What if somebody leaves drugs? What if a kid steps on a dirty needle?"

"When I was a kid, we used to go to the school in my town to go play," said Commissioner Jones. "Nobody asked 'What's going to happen?' So what's changed? Nothing! So, we'll figure it out, right?"

Actually a whole lot has changed.

"We just had a security audit for this facility last week and that was one of the number one concerns of the auditor, is the open campus feel that not just this campus has," said Principal Larnerd, adding that Spring Valley already has big problems with the homeless population in the park next door.

"Cutting holes in fences and sleeping in our dugouts. We've even had a field that was set on fire. We've had Porta Potties set on fire."

Dr. Jara says with more people using school grounds after hours, there might be less crime.

"If you have kids and adults playing and using the fields in the afternoons, maybe there's no vandalism. Because now there's faces and there's kids, there's families out there."

At a February board meeting, Trustee Deanna Wright brought up issues on unsecured areas of CCSD campuses, "including homeless encampments, trash that includes glass, needles and used condoms, and human an animal waste."

Under the Open Schools - Open Doors agreement, there would be no lights and no bathrooms.

"That raises a big red flag," Spears said to Jara.

"Yeah. Right," he responded, "and I think that's where we're gonna have the space and the time, and how often and how far -- and how long -- do we keep them open?"

But the main concern keeps coming back to security.

The proposal reads: "Nothing in this agreement imposes any duty or obligation on the Parties to monitor, secure or supervise community use."

"I don't think you can ever say that nobody has a duty," said Commissioner Jones. "We run parks now. We don't have armed security at our parks and they still function pretty well."

Commissioner Kirkpatrick says the county and city will partner with the school district on maintenance costs.

"But I can't just write a blank check until I know what those costs look like." She said opening schools "is an opportunity for us to see what the issues could be."

As the debate over details continues, the number of schools that would be open keeps changing.

"It's gone from five schools to 140 schools to eight schools to nine schools," said Trustee Ford.

Those currently on the list include three elementary schools: Brookman, Dickens and Harley Harmon; and six high schools: Boulder City, Cheyenne, Desert Pines, Durango, Palo Verde and West Career and Technical Academy.

Potential Open Schools - Open Doors schools in Clark County:

"Who's liable if someone gets hurt?" Spears asked Trustee Ford.

"That's a great question," Ford responded, adding that she asked that very same question at a joint meeting with commissioners.

"And just like how meetings and politics go, there's not really answers but just like 'We hope it'll work out, we hope this and that,' But I'm not voting just on hope."

According to an internal school district memo obtained by 13 Investigates, all school principals the district consulted have concerns about maintenance, supervision, damage, liability and primarily safety.

"I am concerned every time I get that notification at my daughter's high school that they have another drill or another incident. Understood!" said Commissioner Jones. "But that doesn't mean that we should lock ourselves in our homes and not engage in activities."

"So, yes, it is a concern," said Jones. "Is it something that we can't overcome with the same types of security measures that we have for our park system, for our school system during the day? No."

The county says they've been trying to implement Open Schools - Open Doors for 20 years.

Dr. Jara says it's time to figure it out and he's committed to making it work.

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