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RRPS meeting could provide re-entry details

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Although today there are more questions than answers, the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education meets in another virtual session Monday at 5:30 p.m., at which time useful answers should be forthcoming.

RRPS has been working to finalize its re-entry plans for the 2020-21 school year since it received official guidelines from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

RRPS intends to utilize its traditional start dates for the coming school year, and middle school and high school students may begin the new school year on or around Aug. 7, with elementary school students starting on or around Aug. 11.

RRPS anticipates having a finalized re-entry plan ready for the school board to view and possibly take action on Monday. That meeting will be live streamed online at rrps.net.

Five task forces working on draft plans made presentations to the board in June, and the state PED released its guidelines, which RRPS must incorporate into its final plans.

For example, the PED directed RRPS to require face coverings. Families are asked to provide their own, but the district will provide a face covering to those students whose families are unable to afford them and students who forget them.

It’s also possible that students will experience a variety of learning models for the 2020-21 school year, ultimately to return to the traditional type of learning model — all students in classrooms — as soon as it is safe to do so.

Teachers union on board with district

Billie Helean, a first-grade teacher at Ernest Stapleton Elementary and in her second year as president of the Rio Rancho School Employees Union, said, “We’re working very closely with the district: masks, classrooms set up for social distancing; we’ve had a very wonderful collaboration with the district.”

The union has about 300 members and represents not just teachers but also RRPS bus drivers, custodians, education assistants, etc.

Helean said, like unions and school districts across the nation, “I’m hearing a lot from folks who are older, who have very serious concerns, because they fall in those high-risk categories. (But) we understand the necessity of schools; we’re an essential part of a successful community and understand the importance of getting kids back to school.”

Helean, who has six years in the classroom, said she worries about the younger teachers, too.

“Teachers who are new to teaching and in their first or second years are shouldering a new burden teachers have never faced before,” she said. “It’ll be interesting to watch that happen; we want to provide the environment to teach so they can see the joy and satisfaction of what teaching really is.”

Helean said she hasn’t been able to return to her Stapleton classroom and rearrange the desks, but “I am prepared to wear a mask and socially distance from the kids. … I’m really looking forward to how (the union) can support all staff as we go into this new school year.”

 Ready for Parent U?

RRPS has released the meeting dates and topics for this month’s free, virtual Parent University sessions.

These sessions will each focus on a different aspect of school re-entry to address parent and community questions and provide clarity and transparency about the planned processes.

Below is a schedule of sessions; all start at 5:30 p.m.:

  • July 16: What will teaching and learning look like in the fall? Presented by RRPS Curriculum & Instruction staff and RRPS School Improvement Office.
  • July 21: What will virtual learning look like? Presented by RRPS Curriculum & Instruction Staff, RRPS School Improvement Office and special guests from Edgenuity.
  • July 23: RRPS COVID-19 safety practices. Presented by RRPS Safety and Security Department staff and RRPS Facilities Department staff.
  • July 28: What will transportation and food services look like in the fall? Presented by RRPS Transportation Department staff and Sodexo

Visit rrps.net for more information.

Around the country

On July 7, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the country’s governors in a conference call that she expects schools to be “fully operational” soon — regardless of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Ultimately, it’s not a matter of if schools need to open; it’s a matter of how,” DeVos told the governors, as reported by The Associated Press. “School(s) must reopen; they must be fully operational. And how that happens is best left to education and community leaders.”

President Donald Trump has staunchly supported in-person teaching coming back to classrooms for the 2020-21 school year. On July 6, he tweeted that the Democratic lawmakers wanted to keep schools shuttered in the fall for “political reasons.”

But New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has been pushing for a hybrid model to allow students to return to school in the fall — a plan that means some classes will be in-person with a part of school time spent online at home.

Some districts, including RRPS, proposed a hybrid between traditional in-person learning and virtual learning, so students only physically go to school a few times a week. DeVos was opposed to that idea.

“Students across the country have already fallen behind,” DeVos said. “We need to make sure that they catch up, (and) it’s expected that it will look different depending on where you are, but what’s clear is that students and their families need more options.”

Many principals opposed to re-opening

According to a poll conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, with 1,450 principals responding, just 35.2 percent indicated they were somewhat confident or extremely confident in “their school district’s ability to preserve the health of staff and students as schools physically reopen in the fall.” A similar percentage, 34.9 percent, indicated they were somewhat unconfident or not at all confident.

“A principal’s primary and foundational duty is to keep students safe in school. Without that assurance, little real learning can take place,” said NASSP Chief Executive Officer JoAnn Bartoletti. “That only a third of principals feel confident they can provide that assurance under the current conditions should give us pause. They are being asked unreasonably to bridge a chasm between the realities of face-to-face learning and the need to safeguard the people in their school.”

The primary concerns shared by principals include:

  • challenges of maintaining 6 feet of distance on buses and in crowded classrooms, often in windowless rooms with re-circulated air;
  • getting all students to comply consistently with mask rules and prohibitions against congregating;
  • the safety of staff, especially those who are older and immuno-compromised. By extension, there will be a shallower pool of substitute teachers during a time of extraordinary need;
  • concerns that resources would not be available to provide sufficient personal protective equipment and to regularly disinfect the building; and
  • the challenges of COVID-19 having become politicized.

The poll, administered July 7-8, comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s demand that schools fully open in fall 2020 and a threat to withhold federal funding if they do not.

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