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State closes schools for the year

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Schools in Rio Rancho as well as the rest of New Mexico will shift to a learn-at-home model as they remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state education and child care officials announced Friday.‚Äč

The decision is part of a two-pronged plan to protect New Mexicans from COVID-19 and ensure children are protected, fed and educated, and that families are supported through this crisis. The governor previously ordered all public schools closed March 16-April 3, but warned that an extension could be needed.

New Mexico had 191 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases as of Friday afternoon, including some being investigated as community spread, the state health department said. School closings are designed to minimize community spread.

“We’re working very hard to contain the virus, and we have to continue to take aggressive steps to mitigate spread and protect New Mexicans of every age all across the state. It is more important than ever that we make sure all New Mexicans are heeding the imperative to stay home,” Lujan Grisham said. “Keeping schools closed is one of the most important tools we have to support the social distancing that can help us reduce and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

“Schools will not be required to make up the missed instructional days between March 16 and April 3, but for the remaining weeks of the school year to be waived, districts must develop both technology-based and non-technology-based continuous learning plans,” Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

High school credits will be awarded based on flexible approaches, including completion of work, demonstration of competency for course completion and expanded equivalency like work experience. The PED also recommends schools move to pass/no pass credit rather than grades during this period.

Public colleges and universities are not included in the closure order, but most have extended spring break, moved classes online or both.

School-based health centers, educational programming for youth in facilities and licensed childcare facilities serving workers whose jobs have been deemed essential will continue operating.

The plan includes these provisions:

Special needs

Students with special needs will receive all feasible supports and accommodations that can be delivered while maintaining safe social-distancing. School districts must continue to support the transition of children from early intervention into preschool special education. Schools offering behavioral health services will remain open for that purpose.

High school seniors

Individual districts will design measures by which seniors can demonstrate eligibility for graduation. Schools will be required to identify and support students in danger of not graduating.

High school seniors will have until June 19 to demonstrate eligibility, and those who fail to do so will be offered credit recovery in the summer; they can also appeal to their local school board or to the secretary. No student will be denied graduation for lack of access to demonstrate competency.

Advanced placement

Advanced placement exams will be offered online and limited to material students should have covered up to March. Accommodations will be made for those students who need access to technology to take the tests.

School personnel

School personnel and contractors will remain on call and continue being paid as usual. Districts have already received guidance on activities employees can continue performing. Bus contractors are encouraged to continue operating bus routes to deliver food and hard-copy lessons.

Nutrition programs

Every New Mexico school district has a plan to continue providing childhood nutrition. The PED is also seeking permission to distribute Electronic Benefits Transfer cards that would allow qualifying families to purchase meals with their free breakfast/lunch allotment.

Supporting families

The Behavioral Health Division of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department is working with the New Mexico Human Services Department and managed care organizations to help providers and families create digital access to mental-health services for children and youth.

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