A surge of student suicides in the Clark County school district in Nevada is driving the district to reopen for in-person learning, The New York Times reported on Sunday.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the mass closure of schools across the country in March 2020, and school districts have struggled to return to in-person learning. The nation’s largest district, New York City public schools, delayed its reopening for weeks in September 2020, while the January 2021 opening of Chicago public schools, the third-largest district, is proceeding in fits and starts. A petition to open Los Angeles County schools, the second-largest district, was rejected on Thursday by the California Supreme Court.
The Clark County district, the fifth-largest in the U.S. and encompassing the city of Las Vegas, decided to reopen as much as possible this month after 18 students committed suicide in the months since the pandemic began. That is double the nine suicides recorded by the district in all of 2019.
“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,” Clark County superintendent Jesus Clark told the 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.”
It is difficult to establish a clear link between school closures and an increase in suicides, in part because nationwide data on suicides in 2020 has yet to be compiled. However, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention head Robert Redfield warned in July that an increase in suicides could be one of the consequences of extended school closures.
“I don’t think as many parents realize what I’ve tried to say…is there really have been substantial public health negative consequences for children not being in school,” Redfield said during a telebriefing on school reopenings. “We have seen, obviously, increases in adolescent suicide” as well as higher use of drugs.”