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PED: School closures to be extended

APS officials say schools across the state will be closed for three weeks starting Monday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal) (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal )

Update, March 27, 2020:
NM public schools to stay closed for rest of year

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Schools will stay closed for longer than initially planned, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. But the state hadn’t said how long as of Thursday afternoon.

In an online social media posting, the education department said that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart and the state Department of Health would formally announce an extension to school closures and provide more information on Friday morning.

Public preschools and K-12 schools across the state were ordered to shut down effective March 16 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Students were initially scheduled to go back to school April 6, though the Governor’s Office warned early on that the closure could be for longer.

When the original order to shut down schools was released March 13, there were 10 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state. As of Thursday night, there were 136 positive cases.

State officials were discussing the specifics of an extension to shuttering schools on Thursday.

“The final determination of the extent of the closure period will be made (Thursday) evening after reviewing extensive cross-agency plans,” the PED said on social media.

The department did not reply to inquiries from the Journal.

As recently as Tuesday, Lujan Grisham said it was highly likely that schools would remain closed beyond the original time frame and school leaders braced for more time out of the classroom.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said an extension to the closure felt imminent and the district has been planning for schools to be shut down longer.

Erik Bose, executive director of Albuquerque Charter Academy, said that it wasn’t shocking given that some states in the country have halted in-person classes for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

Still, there are many questions that come with keeping schools closed.

Bose said he hadn’t been told how instruction would be addressed beyond the initial closing period. When school closures were slated for March 16 to April 3, Stewart said the missed instructional time would not have to be made up.

“We are still going to have to educate the kids,” Bose said. “Will it be online? What are the requirements? Will it be voluntary?”

The PED has already sought to cancel standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year, sending a waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday.

Ellen Bernstein, president of the union Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said teachers have similar questions on their minds, concerned that students won’t get the necessary education for the rest of the school year.

“Teachers are very concerned about the learning needs of their kids,” she said.

And it’s not just academics that bring questions or worry. Bernstein said educators are anxious for the social and emotional wellness of many students who no longer have stability or routine without school.

“It’s great we are doing grab-and-go lunches,” Bernstein said. “But school is so much more than food and academics.”

While Stewart said school employees would be paid as normal when the closures were first ordered, Bernstein noted it’s unclear what an extension means for teacher compensation, too.

Answers to some of the circulating questions are expected on Friday morning.

At that time, state officials will discuss school closures plans “as part of a two-pronged plan to both protect New Mexicans from COVID-19 and ensure that children are protected, fed, and educated — and that families are supported — throughout this crisis,” according to the governor’s administration.

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