A surge in student suicides has prompted Las Vegas schools, the country's fifth-largest district, to begin a phased reopening from coronavirus-caused shutdowns.
Since the school system shut its doors last March, more than 3,100 alerts have been sent to district officials from a warning system that monitors the mental health of students. In the nine months that followed the shutdown, 18 of those young people took their own lives, double the amount of the entire previous year.
In response, Clark County schools have initiated plans to bring students back to school as quickly as possible. Even the midst of high COVID-19 diagnoses, the district will begin phasing in elementary schools and vulnerable student groups.
"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," Jesus Jara, superintendent of Clark County schools said. "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 said he was personally devastated at his district's losses, noting that the youngest suicide was a 9-year-old elementary student.
"Every day, it feels like we have run out of time," the superintendent said, noting that he feels responsible since, "they're all my kids."
One grandfather in the district who rescued his grandson just moments before he hung himself said the warning signs are not always easy to detect. He said the only indication he had that things were not right was his grandson routinely saying, "I miss my friends."
"He is having a hard time functioning in this isolation," the grandfather said. "It goes against everything that he is. There has to be an option of letting these kids go to school."
Jara and his district have come to the same conclusion.
"We need to get our schools open," he said.