Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Schools across New Mexico will open the 2020-21 school year with a mix of in-person and online learning.
The Public Education Department is recommending a “hybrid” schedule that alternates the days kids come into the school building, according to Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment.
That could look like one group of students coming to class Monday and Tuesday for the full school day, while another group would come Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would be remote learning for all students to allow for sanitization before the groups switch off.
“We know that while our educators moved mountains and did amazing things during this period of online and remote learning, it’s not a substitute for our students being able to be physically in community, physically present. So, we want to maximize the amount of in-person learning that our students have access to in a safe way,” Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart said during a virtual news conference Tuesday.
Younger students and students with disabilities will be given priority for in-person learning.
Recovering lost learning
The PED released a 25-page guidance document, which was influenced by a task force, to direct how districts and charter schools educate students in the fall.
In March, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration called for schools to close, ultimately for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Recently, a Legislative Finance Committee report found that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will likely result in months’ to a year’s worth of learning loss for students. PED has raised questions about the report.
In legislative hearings, including during the special session, multiple lawmakers cautioned that if K-12 students are not allowed back into schools this fall, they could fall even further behind academically.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, who teaches advanced placement psychology at Oñate High School, said the state’s experiment with remote learning after public schools were shuttered in March was unsuccessful.
“It was at very best, better than nothing, and not a whole lot more,” Soules said during a Senate floor debate on a budget solvency bill. “I had highly motivated students and it was not good education.”
In the upcoming year, schools will be tasked with addressing learning loss while adhering to heightened safety requirements to mitigate the spread of the contagious virus.
Specifics on grading and instructional time are unknown right now, but Perea Warniment said the PED will release more information in the future and it will be more rigorous than previous distance learning.
In its reentry guidance, PED writes that “beginning Aug. 3, all schools in the state will be able to start the school year utilizing a hybrid model of instruction.”
“Students will alternate between in-person instruction at the school building and online instruction when at home,” the document says.
APS plan on track
Albuquerque Public Schools has been working on a plan for this scenario. APS Chief Operations Officer Scott Elder, who will take over as acting superintendent July 1, wrote in a statement that the district appreciated the details released by the state.
Stewart said there will be exceptions for medically high-risk students and staff, who should be given virtual or low-contact options to do their work.
Meals will be provided to students on both in-person and distance learning days, according to the plan.
PED deputy secretary Katarina Sandoval said attendance will be reported for in-person days and monitored for remote days.
“If a student wasn’t able to log on for whatever reason, that student wouldn’t necessarily be counted as absent during that particular day, but instead their attendance would be those physical in-person days,” Sandoval said.
The hybrid model will mean extra safety procedures, changing the way school looks and feels for kids.
The number of students in the classroom will be limited to allow for 6 feet of social distancing. PED recommends restrictions on visitors, too.
Students can expect to see signs in classrooms and hallways about how to stop the spread of COVID-19. And they may have to bring water bottles to class as schools are encouraged to turn off water fountains.
Face coverings will largely be required, staff will have to be screened daily and schools must avoid large gatherings, among other requirements.
“It is impossible to avoid all risks of virus transmission in the return to school, but we have the power to greatly minimize the potential for illness if we commit to taking reasonable precautions to contain the virus,” Stewart wrote in the guidance.
As of Tuesday, New Mexico had a total of 10,838 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 4,874 cases designated as recovered by the New Mexico Department of Health.
“The Department of Health is pulling together their plans for our surveillance testing and rapid-response system. So, they are going to be working with all of our charter schools and districts to make sure that we do have a monitoring and response system in place whenever we see cases get confirmed and need to do the contact tracing and isolation,” Stewart said.
The state says its aim is to “move all schools into a full school schedule as soon as it is safely possible.” But PED added that phasing students back into the classroom has its benefits, such as being able to monitor how a limited back-to-school plan affects the coronavirus spread rate.
The plan also has guidance on remote learning and fully in-person learning, depending on the status of the pandemic in the future.
Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this story.