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Remote learning may be mandatory during surge

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The next two weeks will be critical in determining whether some schools in the state can keep offering in-person classes, Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart said during a virtual news conference on Monday.

“Let’s be very clear that if we don’t start to trend in the right direction, if we don’t start to get these case numbers down, get our positivity rates down, then we will be in a situation where we’ll have no choice but to move all schools into remote learning,” Stewart said.

While the state on Monday began a two-week lockdown that closed nonessential businesses, K-12 public schools are allowed to remain open and can continue educating students in their current format, whether that is online or through a mix of in-person and virtual instruction.

Still, Stewart said surveillance testing of staff at schools offering hybrid is yielding a higher number of positive cases compared to previous weeks, which he called a “trend in the wrong direction.” He also said there have been 1,093 student and 1,167 staff coronavirus cases in public schools since September.

Schools will now be included in the New Mexico Environment Department’s COVID-19 Watch list if there are two or more “Rapid Responses” in 14 days. But schools that have four of these COVID-19 responses in 14 days will be required to shut down their campuses and move to remote learning.

A Rapid Response occurs when a school finds out about a COVID-positive employee or student who was on campus during the infectious period. It typically includes isolating a person who tested positive, quarantining those who came into close contact with them and disinfecting.

Public schools that shut down have to continue remote learning until the county they are in meets health criteria established by the state and is considered “green.” If a school shutdown happens in a green county, students will do virtual school for two weeks before being able to reopen in a hybrid model.

The shutdown and switch to remote learning has to happen within a week of starting the fourth rapid response, PED wrote in a memo to school leaders.

Higher education institutions and childcare providers are also subject to the protocols.

Meanwhile, private schools are still allowed to operate at a maximum 25% occupancy, per the public health order.

“Right now, not much is changing with respect to that except for the fact of, we do have the Rapid Response in a manner similar that we do to public schools,” Stewart said.

During the news conference, he said attendance reports show over 12,000 students are unaccounted for on school rosters, though the department is continuing to cross-check this list with home-school and private school rosters.

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