LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Clark County School District Superintendent Dr. Jesus Jara testified before U.S. House members Wednesday morning talking about the challenges CCSD faced closing schools due to the pandemic and then reopening them one year later in March 2021.

He was among a handful of U.S. school superintendents asked to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee.

Closing schools in the nation’s fifth-largest school district proved to be challenging. More than 70% of the 304,000 students are on free and reduced meal plans.

“We quickly discovered many of our students did not have internet access or mobile phones,” Jara said.

However, within weeks of the school closures, he said, the district began distributing more than 240,000 laptops.

“Federal support from the American Rescue Plan made it possible for our school district to stay connected to our students so they could continue learning from home during the pandemic.”

As concerns were raised about the mental health of students, the district launched a program called Lifeline to help students in crisis.

Jara told committee members he relied on teachers, district employees, as well as business and community partners to help with the reopening of schools in March 2021.

“Together we instituted a mask mandate and social distancing protocol, purchased and provided PPE, and hands cleaning protocol and improved ventilation systems. Without their buy-in and voices, we would not have been able to reopen schools in March of 2021.”

Moving forward, Jara said the focus is on dealing with staff shortages.

“We need more substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians. All of these vacancies are putting instruction, extracurricular activities, and maintenance of our district assets at risk,” he said.

The district also did a survey for a program called Focus on the Future for Kids and got 13,000 responses. He said based on those responses the district has allocated $553 million of the $770 million in federal money it received to address the learning needs of students.