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APS board to revisit in-person instruction plans

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools students might not be returning to in-person classes as soon as planned.

David Peercy

This week nearly the entire Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education called for schools to remain closed for longer than what the state is currently planning. The matter will be put to a vote by the end of the month.

Board President David Peercy told the Journal that remote learning for the rest of the semester is on the table and the board will revisit its back-to-school plans after it became clear at Wednesday night’s meeting that members aren’t fully behind starting in-person classes in September.

“I’ve heard pretty clearly from the board members that we have a real concern about in-school instruction,” Peercy said.

The board is slated to discuss and vote on how to move forward with the rest of the semester at an Aug. 19 meeting.

“If we want to take action locally and say, ‘No we’re not going to have in-school for the rest of the semester,’ we can do that,” he said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the call in late July to start school in a remote model without in-person classes, setting a tentative target of phasing kids back into the classroom after Labor Day, or Sept. 7. This aligned with APS’ plan that said the earliest classrooms would open – with 50% of students at one time – is Sept. 8.

But as September quickly approaches and some educators continue to oppose in-person school, the sentiment of the board largely reached a consensus: it’s too soon.

And Peercy said current information indicates schools will remain in the remote model for now.

“I don’t think there is a prayer we are going to get out of (remote) for the near-term,” he said.

The board president added that having plans up in the air is difficult for the staff and community and the board needs to make a decision.

How the district will move forward is not finalized and things could change by Aug. 19.

Still, District 5 board member Candelaria Patterson told the Journal she’s in favor of remote learning for the rest of the calendar year and her future vote will reflect that – a position echoed by fellow board members at Wednesday night’s meeting.

And teachers who publicly spoke at the meeting agreed.

“Hybrid will not be safe. Students and educators will get sick and some will be permanently disabled or die. Instead of focusing on how to be the best virtual teacher, my colleagues and I are stressed,” East San Jose Elementary School teacher Rachel Baucom said, asking the board to continue virtual instruction until January.

Barbara Petersen, the District 4 board member, also voiced her concerns at Wednesday’s board meeting, saying forging ahead with reopening right now is unrealistic.

“There is no way shape or form that either the community or the schools are going to feel comfortable reentering on Sept. 8,” she said.

“We need to be saying, ‘We will not have students walk back into school until it’s safe,’ ” she added.

In a phone interview, Petersen said she is against starting in-person classes next month and is urging remote learning until at least the end of October – though she is open to extending that.

It’s not unprecedented. Santa Fe Public Schools plans to do remote learning for the first nine weeks of the school year, which was approved by the state.

State Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart wrote in a comment that the state “believes strongly” that schools should be maximizing in-person learning when it’s safe to do so, but districts have autonomy.

“We recognize that each district differs with regard to health conditions and operational capacity in order to bring students back safely. Districts have local authority to extend remote learning if they determine that students cannot yet be brought back to school safely,” Stewart wrote.

Interim APS Superintendent Scott Elder will speak before the board about reentry options at the Aug. 19 meeting before the vote.

“We are prepared (to stay in remote) … I will warn you and – I will be sending you information over the next couple weeks – there are consequences to this decision,” Elder said.

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