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Schools stay virtual until after Labor Day

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education have been told for several months that a re-entry plan — or learning virtually and only at home — was a “fluid” situation.

On Monday evening, they heard some of the re-entry plan’s fluidity.

 The biggest change was not having any students in the buildings until Tuesday, Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day. The school year begins, albeit virtually only, Aug. 7 for secondary students and Aug. 11 for elementary students.

Then the hybrid format — two days in school, two days of virtual learning — begins for most students, and elementary students will be back in their classrooms four days a week, excluding Wednesdays.

The state has three categories for school re-entry: Yellow, which is the current category; plus green, for “full re-entry” when there’s no significant spread of the virus; and red, which will pull staff and students out of schools entirely.

The board voted 3-2 for the plan: Catherine Cullen, Wynne Coleman and Jeffery Morgan cast “yes” votes, while Noreen Scott and board president Amanda Galbraith voted “no.”

“We’re just having a hard time trying to make the decisions,” Galbraith said. “I think from day to day, we can’t decide what we want to do and it’s just really a hard decision.”

“We do know the governor can change that,” Cullen noted.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland said this new plan echoes those in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, as well as nationwide. She believed the instructional staff was on board for delayed entry into classrooms.

The change is two-fold, she said: to be sure the technology for virtual learning works well and to ensure the COVID-19 numbers in the area have not soared. Those numbers have been on the rise, but they may be reaching a plateau, experts believed last week.

Cleveland also said, after hearing from a lot of parents, community members and staff members, that this is one of the few times the community has been so divided.

“There is no majority,” she said.

Cleveland told the board more than 1,800 parents had informed RRPS they’ll keep their kids — basically 10 percent of the district’s student population — home for virtual learning for the first semester, at least.

Also, bus-riding special-education students will have their temperatures taken as they board a bus, because those buses have attendants. Students with a temperature at 100 degrees or higher, will be assigned a seat at the front and then handed off to a school nurse and taken to a special care room.

Jerry Reeder, executive director of special services, explained how the district’s 3,000 or so special-ed students will be cared for during the school year, with all K-12 students with disabilities offered the 100-percent virtual option.

For those not choosing that option, special-ed students in grades 6-12 will attend school in person two days a week, maximum, and participate virtually the other days. A rubric will be used to determine the educational services provided.

Parents play a key role in all of this, Cleveland asserted, taking their children’s temperatures every morning, keeping them home if they exhibit symptoms — of any illness — and being sure their children have masks or face shields.

No student will be allowed to board a bus without a mask, Cleveland said, but masks will be available for children without them.

The board had discussed attendants for general-ed buses, but with that feature estimated to cost about $500,000, it was eliminated.

Another consideration for the district, Cleveland said, has been the increase in resignations by teachers, with an increasing need for substitutes. She said a permanent sub pool is being assembled.

“Staffing is a challenge,” Cleveland said, adding that 30 percent of the staff resides in Albuquerque.

And there is a shortage of bus drivers, who some members thought could take students’ temperatures as they boarded buses.

Not a good idea, said transportation director Lynn Carl. She wants drivers to remain in their seats and cognizant of everything around them, including students who may have dropped something and ducked under a bus to get it, and wayward drivers heading toward the bus or students.

Masked bus drivers will monitor students, watching for some who might seem sick.

The board also approved an extension of lobbyist Cris Balzano’s (Balzano Government Relations) contract, which includes three one-year options. The contract calls for Balzano to receive about $53,900 annually.

The board has another virtual meeting slated for Monday, July 27, at 5:30 p.m.


Rio Rancho schools in a nutshell

  • When does school start? School will start Aug. 7 for middle and high school students and on Aug. 11 for elementary school students. It will be virtual only at that time.
  • When will the hybrid option begin? The hybrid option will begin Sept. 8 with Group A students; Group B students will begin Sept. 10.
  • How will this impact students who have selected the 100 percent virtual option? This will have no impact on these students. (Registration for the 100 percent virtual option closed July 24.)
  • How will this look for students who are doing the hybrid option? Group A students will receive instruction virtually through Google Meet on Mondays and Tuesdays, and will have work assignments to complete Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Group B students will receive instruction virtually through Google Meet on Thursdays and Fridays with assignments to complete on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
  • What if I do not have internet access at my residence? Rio Rancho Public Schools administrators want to be sure that all families have the connectivity they need to ensure students can complete their school work online at home. If families have no internet access at their residence, they should complete the application at forms.gle/j6LADjcVRwCsKfE58.
  • Will all students get an RRPS Chromebook and any student instructional materials? All RRPS students will be assigned a Chromebook for the 2020-21 school year and will receive necessary instructional materials. The administration will work with the schools to schedule pickup days and times.
  • Watch for more information from your school. For additional information, visit the Online Learning Resources webpage, sites.google.com/rrps.net/onlineeducationalresources/home.
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