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In-person learning for some younger students in NM

As of Thursday, 50 of New Mexico’s 89 school districts and a host of state charter schools are eligible to start bringing some kids back into the classroom, but it’s unclear how many will actually do so.

During a virtual news conference, New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart provided details on hybrid in-person and online learning for elementary school-aged children, which can start in certain school districts as early as next week.

He didn’t say which schools, if any, will actually have in-person classes on Sept. 8, the earliest date allowed.

“There are board meetings happening today,” Stewart said. “So it’s (really) fluid. It’s gone back and forth.”

The vast majority of New Mexico’s counties have low enough COVID-19 numbers to meet criteria outlined by the Department of Health, and many have submitted plans approved by the education department.

While many of those school districts have pushed all in-person weeks or months, Albuquerque, the state’s largest district, says it will stay online through the first semester.

PED has stressed it won’t mandate a school or district to open for in-person classes.

If outbreaks remain low, the state’s education department will allow in-person learning up to middle and high schools. For now, the vast majority of students will be learning from home.

PED also announced the launch of anonymous reporting for non-compliance within a school, located on its website.

Last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that in-person classes will be limited to children in kindergarten through fifth grade because that age group suffers the most from online learning, and poses the least risk for spreading and catching the virus. The governor also outlined protocols for which schools will open and how they may shut down if COVID-19 cases are reported among students and staff.

Schools will open by district based on a number of testing and case criteria, determined by two-week rolling averages. When a person tests for the virus, entire classrooms or wings of a school may need to be closed.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase drew a contrast Thursday between New Mexico and other states where schools opened up earlier for students of all ages with higher levels of COVID-19 cases in the community.

He said a more conservative approach, as well as modeling from a team of scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, could mean fewer outbreaks and fewer school closures.

Journal staff writer Shelby Perea contributed to this report.