We face a public health crisis that has fundamentally changed our lives and our communities in unprecedented ways. For many New Mexican students, educators and families, the start of the 2020—21 school year is marked by profound uncertainty and a sense of loss brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the fear and hardship the virus has caused, New Mexicans from all walks of life and all areas of the state have come together in amazing ways and through noteworthy sacrifice to contain the spread of the virus in our state to an incredible degree. This collective effort has “flattened the curve” to the point where we can engage in the process of reentering our school buildings.
As we move toward welcoming our students back to our campuses, it is critical all educators, families and community members recognize that the need for prudent and proactive measures to prevent the spread of the virus will become more important – not less – to keep our students and communities healthy and safe. 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. This commitment requires steadfast leadership, hard decisions, adaptability and a willingness to challenge notions about how schools function. Reopening schools will require temporary sacrifices of some of the events, traditions and ways of being that we have often taken for granted. This will not be easy, but it will be worth it. While this year will undoubtedly look and feel different than any that has come before, the brilliance, curiosity and resilience of our children will serve as beacons of hope amid ongoing turbulence.
To our indomitable and amazing educators, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do in service of our students. To our critical school staff – including food service workers, bus drivers and bus attendants, custodians, counselors, therapists, nurses, social workers, secretaries, educational assistants and so many others – welcoming our students back to campus would not be possible without your daily contributions to ensuring their safety, health and well-being. To our parents, caregivers, and families – our commitment to you is that we will do everything in our power to ensure your students have a safe, welcoming and inspiring school experience.
The state’s goal is to move all schools into a full schedule as soon as it can safely be accomplished. We are united in this goal. Our modeling data has informed us that hybrid models in this first phase are one of the safest ways to mitigate the spread of the virus. Therefore, New Mexico will take a phased approach to reentering schools utilizing a hybrid model of instruction.
When we look back at the 2020—21 school year, we will remember this as year zero of the new normal that we created together. May we continue to learn, innovate and support one another as we boldly forge our path forward. We’re all in this together.