Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
As New Mexico faces an explosion of COVID-19 cases with records being shattered day after day, Albuquerque Public Schools has closed some of its special education, in-person programs.
As of Friday, seven special education small-group sites in the district had been canceled, meaning that about 60 students with disabilities are no longer able to take advantage of face-to-face learning, according to Stephanie Fascitelli, APS interim associate superintendent of special education. Those students will do remote learning only.
And the interim associate superintendent said more sites could close in the future.
“It’s really contingent upon this public health crisis … So as these numbers are rising in Albuquerque especially, it’s getting more and more risky for people to leave their house, actually, you know, even to get gas and to go to the grocery store,” Fascitelli said, adding that going to school becomes an added risk.
APS is doing remote learning at least through the end of December, but the most significantly challenged special education students, who have a disability-related specialized education plan, have been allowed on campus for classes of five students to one teacher.
Fascitelli said closures are occurring because both families and teachers are hesitant to be in the classroom with fears of getting or spreading the coronavirus.
“I think it goes both ways. We have kids that are staying home because their parents feel that it’s too risky to send them to school. And then we have on the flip side, teachers that are no longer willing and able to participate because of their fear of contracting the virus,” she said.
Roughly 300 students are still able to attend Special Ed in the Red programs, Fascitelli said.
About 100 children are in programs that have paused or are slated to be paused soon. Programs can be suspended anywhere from four days to three weeks for a variety of reasons, including deep cleaning or because staff need to quarantine.
It’s up to the school whether they pause or cancel a program, but staffing is a key factor in that decision, Fascitelli said.
“When a principal alerts me that they no longer have a teacher that’s willing and able to come in, then that means it’s closed,” she said.
Staffing teachers for Special Ed in the Red is on a volunteer basis, which has been a hurdle to opening additional sites in APS. Fascitelli told the Journal previously that over 100 students with disabilities, who were identified for Special Ed in the Red, weren’t receiving that instruction because of a lack of educators opting to come on campus.