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APS to continue remote learning through December

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Amid three recent school shutdowns due to COVID-19, the Board of Education decided Albuquerque Public Schools students will continue remote learning through the end of the semester, with some exceptions, namely students with special needs.

The APS Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to remain in the online model for longer than initially planned. Board President David Peercy emphasized that can be revised in the future, if needed.

The board revisited its reentry strategy on Wednesday night following a discussion earlier this month in which members made it clear they weren’t fully behind a plan to start in-person classes in September.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had previously announced classes would take place remotely through at least Sept. 7. On Wednesday, she expressed hope that most elementary school students will be able to return to classrooms after Labor Day under a hybrid model, citing declining statewide rates of coronavirus infection. In a live video interview with Washington Post journalist Eugene Scott, Lujan Grisham said New Mexico is “crushing it” when it comes to containing the pandemic and meeting the state’s criteria for reopening the economy.

At the Wednesday APS meeting, multiple speakers, including teachers, asked the board to continue with remote learning for longer than the state’s timeline.

“We should remain in the online learning mode until the schools’ conditions and resources make it safe,” said Deborah Hill, school nurse and parent.

Others wanted doors to start reopening, including Heidi Pitts, who didn’t think her high school child was getting enough schooling through distance learning, and educator Taveyah Griffon, who said it’s not efficient to operate online, especially for students with special needs.

According to data presented to the board, 56.3% of people who responded to a survey were “very uncomfortable” with their child returning to a school building.

Meanwhile, three schools in APS have recently been shut down – before they even opened to students – due to COVID-19 cases among employees.

Monica Armenta, an APS spokeswoman, said East San Jose Elementary had two employees test positive. The school was closed for cleaning Saturday after the first case and closed again Monday after the second case, she said. And Hayes Middle School and Hawthorne Elementary School each had one employee test positive, according to Armenta.

She said the three schools closed campus wide for at least three days for “deep cleaning,” adding that the district is following state Department of Health protocol.

She did not know how or when the employees tested positive and, citing privacy concerns, would not say if the employees were teachers or in what capacity they worked at the schools.

Armenta added that APS employees are required to be tested for the virus before coming back to work and must fill out a daily form acknowledging that they are not sick. If they do get sick, Armenta said they are required to self-report and get tested.

Acting Superintendent Scott Elder noted there are pros and cons to staying in remote learning.

For instance, families will have consistency over the next few months versus potential intermittent shutdowns when there are positive cases. Continuing with remote learning also allows APS to see what happens at other districts that do reopen in-person classes and it assures employees have a work-from-home option. Nearly 5,000 teachers and school staff have requested to work from home due to health concerns for themselves, students or household members, according to APS.

However, there are ripple effects. Elder said he is worried about the potential loss of staff who will not have duties during remote learning, such as bus drivers, and he is concerned about student wellness without teachers checking in on them face to face.

Ultimately, the board decided to put off in-person classes for most students at least through the end of December. Peggy Muller-Aragon was the lone no vote, voicing academic concerns among other things.

“This decision will not make everybody happy, but I think what is important is that we know what the start date will be so people can plan accordingly,” Elder said.

The Associated Press and Journal Staff Writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.

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