RIO RANCHO, N.M. — As Rio Rancho Public Schools wrestles with all the details, many yet unknown, that go into the re-opening of its schools, administrators and staffers, as well as the five-member school board, are confronting difficult, high-stakes decisions in light of the global pandemic that rages on.
Safety for students and staff members, as well as bus drivers, coaches and others, is the chief priority. But with no vaccine or sufficient treatment yet against COVID-19, no one can fully — as in 100 percent — be shielded from the risk.
That leaves the K-12 leaders to balance three critical and often competing responsibilities: the health and safety of their people, the roles their schools play in the district and city of Rio Rancho, and the effective teaching of their students.
We understand some parents don’t want their children back in the schools just yet, and some don’t want them back there at all. Yes, education is important, but now at what cost?
Many of the options being bandied about for the re-opening of schools will upend some of the most-effective aspects of teaching and learning. The traditional close, in-person collaboration of students on classroom projects, for example, will have to cease for now; such close collaboration is tougher when your partner is 6 feet away.
Classes like art, music, drama and physical education, including athletics — all important to keeping students engaged and attending school — will be severely restricted.
There are no playbooks for any of this, and following the public-health protocols and many unfunded mandates will cost RRPS a lot of money, even as its budget was pummeled by the economic collapse.
Managing the anxieties of teachers, students and parents will require patience, compassion and careful communication.
Every facet of the school day will change when students and teachers return to the buildings, wearing masks and having their temperatures checked. Administrators will do what they can to deter anyone with a temperature over 100.6 degrees from mingling with the rest of the students, until it’s determined if it’s temporary — the student may have been standing in the sun too long — or if it’s an indicator of a possible positive coronavirus test.
Students will be reminded to frequently wash their hands, they’ll find their classrooms have fewer students with desks farther apart than usual, and seeing a teacher wearing a facemask or shield will be disturbing for a while.
And, with every student in possession of a Chromebook, maybe as much as half of his or her learning may take place online, in Cyberspace. Let’s hope Mom or Dad, or an older sibling, is available if and when help is needed; there’s nothing like getting halfway through a math problem and not knowing where to go next.
Yes, it’s a new world out there in 2020. As the signs seen as we enter the City of Vision proclaim, “Stay safe. Stay strong. We will get through this.”
Patience is the key. These are uncharted waters we’re wading in these days. So let’s not be flailing.