Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023 | 2 a.m.
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara has pledged to stand up for the civil rights of students and families in the face of extremism and against censorship.
Jara signed the “pledge for public officials” from the national, pro-public education Defense of Democracy, acknowledging that his constituency is diverse — and, to his role at the helm of the 300,000-student, 40,000-employee CCSD, that not only would he protect the civil rights of all his constituents, but he would advocate for his educators, including librarians.
School and classroom libraries have been a flashpoint in culture wars in states such as Florida and Texas, especially when the books cover race or queer communities.
“We serve all families and all kids from all walks of life,” Jara said Wednesday after signing the pledge online and, for posterity, on paper.
The pledge reads:
“I acknowledge that my constituency is made up of individuals from all religions, cultural backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, and walks of life. I recognize that our LGBTQ+, Black, Indigenous and families of color face significant threats from extremist groups. I pledge to represent and protect the civil rights of all members of my constituency.
“I acknowledge that an excellent public education system — including access to information — is the cornerstone of a fully functioning society. I pledge to support and, when necessary, advocate for teachers, librarians and other educators within my public school system.
“Parents should be involved in and have input regarding their own child’s education. However, this right does not extend to other children within the school system. By signing this pledge, I acknowledge that our education professionals are best qualified to make decisions regarding materials included in their classrooms and libraries.”
Nichole Beer, the teacher-librarian for Martinez Elementary School in North Las Vegas, brought the pledge to Jara’s attention.
“This is a hill for me to die on,” Beer said. “I don’t want to go back in the closet, and I want to be able to offer these outlets to students who were me.”
Defense of Democracy’s upcoming signature event, the Readout, raises funds and awareness during Banned Books Week in the first week of October. Beer will lead a discussion on banned children’s books like “The Giving Tree.” (The 1964 Shel Silverstein classic follows the lifelong relationship between a boy and an apple tree that gives him parts of itself until there is nothing left, with controversy around whether the tree represents unconditional love or an abusive relationship.)
Defense of Democracy formed last year in a small town in New York to push back against school board candidates endorsed by the far-right group Moms for Liberty. Moms for Liberty recently launched a Las Vegas chapter and members have started attending CCSD School Board meetings, but Jara said his signature had nothing to do with that.
Moms for Liberty has chapters nationwide and labels itself as a “parental rights” organization. The group launched in Florida in 2021 in opposition of pandemic restrictions and now brings aggressive complaints about instruction on systemic racism and gender identity to school board meetings around the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled it an “extremist” organization.
The national freedom-of-speech organization PEN America said in a report last week that school book bans increased 33% nationwide over the previous year. PEN America identified Moms for Liberty as one of the groups calling for book removal through school board meetings and challenge forms.
Jara’s endorsement of the Defense of Democracy pledge dovetails with a district regulation that the School Board revised in late 2020 to have instructional materials, including textbooks and library resources, be “inclusive and responsive to the diversity of persons without discrimination or segregation.”
The revised policy created site-level committees to select materials and decide on book challenges that could lead to restrictions or bans. School librarians are part of these committees.
Teacher of the Year
The newest Nevada State Teacher of the Year is Laura Jeanne Penrod from Southwest Career and Technical Academy.
Penrod, an English teacher and one of the academy’s original faculty members who opened the school in 2009, received the honor during a surprise assembly. She advances to be considered for the National Teacher of the Year honor program facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Penrod’s students have some of the highest scores in CCSD on the English portion of the ACT. Her students have won a state anti-bullying campaign, created care packages for other students experiencing housing insecurity, and helped middle school teachers prepare eighth graders for the transition to high school.
She also joined her students in advocating in the state Legislature this spring to pass bills on financial literacy education and expanding access to the state’s college and career readiness diploma.
Brianna Cotter, a science teacher and instructional strategist at The Meadows School in Las Vegas, and retired Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Meyers, a senior naval science instructor at Carson High School in Carson City, were this year’s finalists for the state title.
Honor support staff
Monday is the deadline to nominate a school support professional for Nevada’s Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Award.
The award honors any support, or classified, employee such as classroom aides, clerical and administrative staff, bus drivers and transportation workers, and food services, custodial, maintenance, security, health, technical and skilled trades workers in preschool through high school settings.
You can fill out a nomination form online. Nominees will receive an email inviting them to apply. Two winners will be announced in October.
[email protected] / 702-990-8949 / @HillaryLVSun