Higher ed chancellor, institution presidents say few pandemic-related changes in store as spring semester approaches

With the fall semester coming to a close and the spring semester approaching, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Melody Rose praised the system’s pandemic response thus far and signaled few changes to pandemic plans already in place during a meeting of the Board of Regents Friday. 

“We are nine months into this pandemic, or so, and what was once thought to be a brief acute event has become a marathon,” Rose said. 

Though there were early concerns over spread among college and university communities — especially among students — contact tracing conducted over the last few months has shown few, if any, cases of viral transmission on campus or during in-person instruction. 

Instead, a vast majority of the spread among students and faculty has occurred off-campus, where transmission has largely ebbed and flowed with broader community spread. 

“I guess the biggest message from the fall semester as we prepare for the spring is that if you follow the protocols, they actually work,” Nevada State College President Bart Patterson said. “The complication, of course, is that students don't always follow those rules, sometimes, specifically when they’re not on campus, and so that's the big challenge that we all have.”

Across the board, presidents at the state’s colleges and universities said they would continue to operate in large part as they had in the fall, utilizing, in part, limited in-person instruction, mandatory mask-usage and expanded cleaning protocols. 

Some institutions have already planned for additional mitigation steps, especially amid some concerns that the pandemic may worsen before a vaccine becomes widely available sometime next year. 

UNR announced in October that it would cancel its spring break, citing concerns of students returning while contagious, and Truckee Meadows Community College President Karin Hilgersom said that, while still optimistic, the college remained ready to switch to “100 percent” online instruction if necessary. 

Still, as the state prepares to distribute the first wave of vaccinations this month and as hopes rise for broader vaccination through the spring, some institutions are also preparing plans to ramp up on-campus activity should conditions sufficiently improve. 

“We must be prepared to pivot to a new normal,” CSN President Federico Zaragoza said. “Thus, if the environment permits, we are also planning to significantly increase our CTE [college credit] and lab-intensive courses as part of a late spring semester … if [spring] is a different environment, it will be a game changer for us, and that I think it'll allow us to also then ramp up some of the workforce efforts that we have developed.” 

Elaine Wynn departing from State Board of Education at year's end

The back end of a Clark County School bus

Elaine Wynn, a longtime force in Nevada’s K-12 education world, is leaving the State Board of Education at the end of this year.

Wynn, the board’s current president, was appointed to the governing body in 2012 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval. Her appointment coincided with a major composition shift to the State Board of Education, which now includes both appointed and elected members.

Gov. Steve Sisolak also announced Friday that he has appointed former state board member Mark Newburn, who this year lost a re-election bid to Rene Cantu, to succeed Wynn. Newburn previously represented District 4 as an elected member.

“President Wynn’s legacy of service to the children of our great State is indelible,” Sisolak said in a statement. “Generations of children will be the beneficiaries of her life-long passion to improve education and support healthy communities throughout Nevada. I cannot thank President Wynn enough for her dedication to the Board and I know she will continue to contribute to the betterment of the Silver State.”

During her eight-year tenure on the board, Wynn — a businesswoman and philanthropist — emphasized better serving students of color as well as students living in poverty. That passion can be traced to her efforts since the pandemic disrupted learning in the spring. Wynn played a key role in establishing a public-private partnership known as Connecting Kids that has drastically reduced the number of children statewide without access to a device or internet for distance learning.

Three state superintendents — Jhone Ebert, Steve Canavero and Dale Erquiaga — were hired during her tenure. She also has a namesake building, the Elaine Wynn Elementary School, in Las Vegas.

Per Nevada law, appointed voting members of the State Board of Education serve two-year terms, with the caveat that they will continue serving until a successor has been appointed. When Newburn's term as an elected member expires in January, he will begin his appointed term.

As remote learning continues, City of Las Vegas to create wireless network with six-figure grant

The City of Las Vegas has received a $950,000 grant that will be put toward improving internet connectivity for students amid remote learning.

The six-figure grant comes from the Governor’s Office of Science, Innovation and Technology. Officials said it will be used to create a city-wide wireless network, with initial deployment near the Historic Westside, Corridor of Hope and Medical District neighborhoods.

The undertaking will involve adding equipment such as antennas, radios, fiber switches and microwave radios to streetlight poles. City leaders described the end result as a “heightened internet” that Clark County School District students can access at no charge through cell phones, tablets and mobile notebooks.

The first phase of the network project is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

It represents another effort to bridge the digital divide as students remain in distance-education mode. Recent estimates suggest nearly a third of Las Vegas households may not have fixed internet access.

Connecting students with both internet and appropriate technology devices has been a herculean effort since the pandemic abruptly closed schools in mid-March. Similarly, groups have been trying to improve the quality of the internet, especially for families with multiple children. 

The Clark County School District has been operating under remote learning this academic year and will continue to do so at least through early January.

Governor, other elected officials slam Trump's tweet about Reno hospital, election results

A tweet from President Donald Trump angered Nevada officials Tuesday after the commander-in-chief shared a bogus charge about a Reno hospital and falsely tweeted that Nevada’s election laws were “fake.”

Trump retweeted a post insinuating that an alternative hospital site inside a Renown Regional Medical Center parking garage is fake. The president included a message of his own at the top, saying “Fake election results in Nevada, also!”

The president’s post proved inflammatory, as Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve, among others, condemned his attack.

Sisolak issued a 289-word statement and called the president’s tweet “dangerous and reckless,” especially when the pandemic is raging in many parts of the country.

“It is unconscionable for him to continue to spread lies and sow distrust at a time when all Americans should be united during this historic public health crisis,” the governor wrote. “Enough is enough.”

Last month, Renown Health officials stood up the alternative care site inside the parking garage as COVID-19 cases surged in Reno. A Renown spokesperson said, as of Tuesday, 42 patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 were being cared for in the alternative care site. 

Schieve likened the president’s tweet to an “attack on the community.”

“It is abhorrent to me that anyone, let alone a president, spout lies that mock and demean patients fighting for their lives,” she wrote in a statement. “The exceptional leaders at Renown have been forced into this unbelievable situation and I commend them for this heroic work.”

Ford echoed that sentiment in his response to Trump’s tweet.

“Nevadans from Douglas County to Downtown Las Vegas, from Pleasant Valley to Primm, and from Washoe to Winchester are suffering from COVID spikes,” Ford wrote in a Twitter post. “Stop downplaying it. Help our healthcare workers instead! For once.”

There were 2,160 new COVID-19 cases across Nevada reported Tuesday as well as a record 1,589 hospitalizations.

Commission candidate’s motion to stop vote certification in District C race denied

A judge in Clark County has denied Republican candidate Stavros Anthony’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the County Commission from reconsidering certifying results in the District C race.

The motion was filed on Wednesday after the commission released an agenda that included a motion to reconsider requested by Commissioner Tick Segerblom allowing board members to vote on canvassing and certifying results for the race. The commission chose not to certify those results at its initial canvassing meeting because the 139 ballot discrepancies noted in the region outnumbered the 10-vote margin of victory held by Las Vegas City Councilman Anthony’s Democratic opponent Ross Miller, a former secretary of state.

Miller filed a suit against the county after the decision not to certify, which he said exceeded the board’s “authority under law.” Anthony is an intervening plaintiff in the case. 

The candidate’s motion for preliminary injunction referenced a stipulation agreed to by the county that the board would not proceed with a special election until the court made a decision. Anthony said that preventing the county from reversing its certification decision would also violate that stipulation which was the motion said was intended to “preserve the status quo.”

Anthony’s attorney, former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, argued at Monday’s hearing that comments made by Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria showed that an effective election had been “prevented” in the district because of ballot discrepancies.

“As a result [of the discrepancies], I cannot certify that the vote is an accurate representation of the will of the voters in that district,” Gloria said in the affidavit. “In my professional opinion as an election official, it raises a reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.”

Hutchinson said that these discrepancies entitle Anthony and District C voters to a new election according to NRS 293.465 which says that a new election is appropriate if “an election is prevented in any precinct or district by reason of the loss or destruction of the ballots intended for that precinct, or any other cause.”

However, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez did not agree that ballot discrepancies qualified as “cause” under the statute.

Ballot discrepancies can occur when voters cast multiple ballots, when check-in numbers at voting sites don’t match up with the number of ballots cast at that site or as a result of various mail-in ballot issues. Gloria previously said that these discrepancies occur in every election.

Without an injunction from the court, the Clark County Commission will meet on Tuesday to canvass results in the District C race and discuss certification.

Special election plans on hold in Clark County Commission race decided by 10 votes

Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez heard from both parties involved in Democrat Ross Miller’s lawsuit against Clark County on Friday to determine what is needed as evidence in the case and to set a date for the next hearing. 

Miller is suing the county after the Clark County Commission decided not to certify the results of the commission District C election which Miller won by 10 votes. The decision came after Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria identified 139 discrepancies in ballots cast in the district, which county leaders said was a margin that could cast doubt on the ultimate result.

During the short conference on Friday, Gonzalez granted a request by Miller’s attorney Dominic Gentile to include a deposition of Gloria of less than three hours as evidence in the hearing. Additionally, county counsel Mary-Anne Miller agreed to a stipulation by Gentile that the Clark County Commission will not take any action to hold the special election until after the suit is settled.

Additionally, Republican former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, attorney for Ross Miller’s Republican opponent Stavros Anthony, intervened in the case. Although Gentile objected to Hutchison’s intervention, Gonzalez overruled his objection and allowed Hutchison to intervene and represent Anthony’s interests in the suit.

A date was not set for the next hearing, but all parties were directed to meet independently to determine a date and report that date back to Gonzalez the week of Nov. 30.

Unsuccessful GOP Assembly candidate sues for re-vote in Clark County, hits procedural bumps

The lawyer for a Republican Assembly candidate who is calling for a new election over concerns about a signature verification machine and other matters said he will withdraw the complaint and file it another way after a judge found procedural faults with the case.

The lawsuit was filed in Clark County District Court by Republican Cherlyn Arrington, who lost her race in Assembly District 21 to Democrat Elaine Marzola by 1,197 votes or four percentage points. But county attorney Mary-Anne Miller argued in a Friday hearing that the case, argued by attorney Craig Mueller, was coming in the wrong forum, and should be filed as an election contest with the Legislature. 

“I have serious concerns about your claims, Mr. Mueller, especially the fact that you are essentially contesting an election at this stage, which doesn’t seem to be appropriate without going through some additional hoops,” said Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

Mueller said he would withdraw the case and re-file it as an election dispute. The county expects to file a motion to dismiss on the current complaint if it’s not withdrawn or any amended complaint Mueller files; a status check on the matter is set for Dec. 4 with Gonzalez presiding.

Arrington’s lawsuit cites concerns about a machine that verifies signatures on ballots — an argument that has appeared in a handful of recent Republican lawsuits — and questions she received from voters wondering about their provisional ballot status. Gonzalez said she didn’t want to rehash matters that Carson City District Court Judge James Wilson reviewed in a lengthy hearing before Election Day before ultimately deciding they were not enough to justify pausing the ballot counting process.

"I'm not looking to just look at what Judge Wilson already did,” Gonzalez said.

Mueller argued that Wilson’s decision was prospective — ahead of Election Day — and this challenge came as "we are in the cleaning-of-the-car-wreck phase of the case. Brooms and dustpans are out."

He also argued that there were 8,000 new voter registrations in the district in three to four months leading up to the election, saying that must have been "error or malfeasance.” But it’s unclear exactly how Mueller arrived at the number; secretary of state records show there were 40,048 voters in October, up from a low this year of 34,730 in February, which is a difference of 5,359.

Arrington’s is at least the sixth lawsuit filed by losing Republican candidates in the past few days seeking to scrap the election results over alleged irregularities. Others were filed by state Senate candidate April Becker, congressional candidates Dan Rodimer and Jim Marchant, President Donald Trump, and former U.S. Senate candidate and conservative activist Sharron Angle.

Several of the lawsuits were up for court hearings on Friday.

Arrington’s suit brings up several arguments, including that the District C Clark County Commission race — in which Democrat Ross Miller won by 10 votes out of more than 150,000 cast — had irregularities that prompted commissioners to pursue a special election. 

She also indicates that in state Senate District 6, where Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro won by 631 votes, canvassers affiliated with the conservative group Citizen Outreach Foundation and who visited 57 addresses reported speaking to people at about one-third of those who weren’t the same people a ballot was sent to or who said they did not receive a mail ballot.

Arrington acknowledges that District 21 does not overlap with Commission District C, but provided as exhibits a handful emails she received from voters with a variety of complaints, including two — from Nov. 7 and Nov. 11 — wondering why the secretary of state’s website still lists their vote as provisional and one voter reporting that someone called to say his vote may not have counted.

Clark County issued a warning this week that third parties were contacting voters and indicating their votes may not have counted. County officials advised that only the county election department or the secretary of state are reliable sources on that information.

The secretary of state’s office also indicated that vote history information on the SOS website is generally not updated until election results are certified, meaning that they were likely not current until this week.

A county spokesman pushed back on the allegations in the suit.

“Once again we see a complaint that repeats allegations the courts have already rejected, and parrots erroneous allegations made by partisans without first-hand knowledge of the facts," said spokesman Dan Kulin.

Cherlyn Arrington Lawsuit by Michelle Rindels on Scribd

Ford appointed to leadership position in national Democratic attorneys general group

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is being named co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

Ford will serve alongside DAGA’s current co-chair, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, in the group dedicated to supporting Democratic Party candidates in attorney general races across the nation. The group helps fund Democratic candidates and also runs independent ads, including in Ford’s narrow 2018 victory over Republican challenger Wes Duncan.

“We are the party committed to voting rights, ensuring equal access to the ballot box, and combatting efforts to delegitimize our democratic institutions,” Ford said in a statement. “In the years ahead, we will support and elect strong Democratic leaders to Attorneys General offices nationwide who share these values, protect their most vulnerable constituents, and fight for the people.”

Ford was previously named to the group’s executive committee after his 2018 election. Nationwide, Democrats control 25 state attorney general offices.

Sharron Angle-backed group files emergency request for court to block certification of election results over alleged voter fraud

A group backed by conservative activist and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle has filed an emergency request to block certification of Nevada’s 2020 election results over a myriad of voter fraud allegations.

The motion was filed Monday in Clark County District Court by Angle and the Election Integrity Project of Nevada (a vote-monitoring organization led by Angle) seeking an emergency injunction against the state barring it from certifying the results of the general election and ordering a new election, over a wide variety of voter fraud claims.

Angle and the group filed a similar lawsuit in September, seeking a stop to Nevada’s planned expansion of mail-in ballots ahead of the 2020 election, but that request was rejected by both a District Court judge and the state Supreme Court, which said the group failed to provide any “concrete evidence” that the expanded mail voting plan would result in voter fraud.

But in the new motion filed on Monday, an attorney for the group said that it had found “extensive evidence” of voter fraud in the state’s 2020 election, claiming that was grounds for an immediate injunction as the supposed prevalence of voter fraud deprived legitimate voters of their right to vote.

The lawsuit states that the Election Integrity Project group had identified 1,411 individuals who had been registered to vote in Nevada, then moved to California, registered to vote there, but then voted in the Nevada election. It also said it had identified a list of more than 8,000 voters who had not voted since 2010, and stated that volunteers fanned out to many of those addresses to find that many of the individuals no longer lived at the addresses.

The group’s attorney, Joel Hansen, wrote that those things were evidence of “very loose and ineffective controls against the commission of fraud in the election.”

“There is no way to know, under these circumstances, what the actual vote count should have been — when systemic fraud corrupts the whole election, the only remedy is for the court to void this election and order that a new election be held,” he wrote.

Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria told members of the Clark County Commission on Monday that he had identified 936 “discrepancies” among votes cast countywide, including things like inadvertently canceled votes, reactivated voter cards and check-in errors at polling places. More than 974,000 votes were cast in Clark County for the 2020 election.

Major Nevada counties certified their vote totals on Monday in what’s known as a canvass, but the statewide approval of votes will occur on Nov. 24 by the state Supreme Court. Once that happens, Nevada’ six electoral votes for president will be cast by individuals appointed by the state Democratic Party during a meeting on Dec. 14 in Carson City.

Jara: Remote learning, staff telecommuting to remain through the end of first semester

Staff telecommuting and remote learning will continue the rest of this semester in the Clark County School District, per a message Monday evening from Superintendent Jesus Jara.

The announcement follows a Clark County School Board meeting Thursday that resulted in no action on the district’s 205-page transition plan to in-person learning. The board opted to table a vote given surging coronavirus cases and Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plea for Nevada residents to stay home as much as possible right now.

Jara previously had indicated the transition plan could come before the trustees as soon as their Dec. 10 meeting, but that timeline appears pushed back again. The superintendent’s message on Monday noted that staff would bring the transition plan to trustees “in early January 2021 for their consideration.”

The new timeline means the reopening decision will fall to a largely revamped school board. Three newly elected trustees — Lisa Guzman, Katie Williams and Evelyn Garcia Morales — will be sworn into their new roles at the Jan. 4 school board meeting. They will be replacing, respectively, Deanna Wright, Chris Garvey and Linda Young, who are termed out at the end of this year. 

Board President Lola Brooks won reelection in the general election, so she will be returning for a second term.

During a media call on Friday, Jara said negotiations regarding the transition plan continued with the Clark County Education Association, which is the bargaining unit for teachers. He also said the plan would remain a hybrid model because of health and safety guidelines, but staff would be making tweaks based on school board and community feedback.