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Santa Fe schools may start year fully remote

SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe school board on Thursday will consider a proposal to start the 2020-21 school year remotely. The plan calls for a gradual transition to a hybrid model based on infection transmission rates of the coronavirus.

The school district and the teachers union representing most public school educators announced their plan in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

“We’ve agreed to propose that school begin for all students on August 20th fully remote for the first nine weeks. We will assess infection transmission rates and when they fall below 1.05 we will begin to bring students back into a pilot hybrid model,” the release said.

The school board will consider three options for opening the school year – remotely, full reentry or a hybrid model – at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Thursday after a presentation on the topic.

The joint statement says that both SFPS and the National Education Association-Santa Fe believe that normally the best place for kids to learn would be in the classroom, not only for their academic growth but for their social and emotional well-being. “However, our number one priority has to be their safety and health, and these are not normal circumstances.”

The statement said that when transmission rates fall below 1.05, students would be brought back in a small pupil-teacher ratio. If that proves successful, students will be called back to class gradually, increasing the student population by 20% at a time.

A survey conducted by the school district released this week showed that about half of faculty and staff members preferred a remote reentry into the school year, while 17% supported a full reentry plan. Nearly half – 45% – of students in grades 4-12 surveyed preferred a full reentry, while 23% favored a remote approach. Parents were evenly split between remote, full reentry and hybrid models.

During a press briefing on Monday, Superintendent Veronica Garciá said two district staff members recently testing positive for the coronavirus over the weekend opened her eyes as to just how difficult it would be to open school amid the pandemic no matter what precautions were adopted.

The district said Wednesday that two contract employees had also tested positive, despite strict protocols to keep employees safe.

“The recent series of cases in our district have shed a light on how important decisions made outside of work impact the workplace,” Garciá said. “What happens at home with this virus doesn’t stay at home.”

The most recent modeling by Presbyterian Healthcare Services and state officials estimated the transmission rate in New Mexico to be 1.1, up from 0.87 a month ago. The spread rate in the northeastern region of the state, which includes Santa Fe County, was also 1.1.

Santa Fe County has experienced a surge in the number of reported COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. The 29 new cases reported Wednesday represents 8% of the 380 total cases in the county to date.

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