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Albuquerque Public Schools will not be welcoming students back to campuses Feb. 8. Interim Superintendent Scott Elder made that clear during a news conference Wednesday, citing prerequisite school inspections and other hurdles.
Also, the issue has to go before the Board of Education for a vote, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, he said.
“A few months ago, when the virus spread was at its peak, the APS Board of Education voted to continue remote learning for almost all of our students — the exception being some of our most vulnerable special education students — until Bernalillo County was categorized as ‘green’ by the state Department of Health,” Elder said. “… One of the first things we have to do is go back to our board and see if they want to reconsider this requirement.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in-person learning options would be expanding in New Mexico. Starting Feb. 8, all schools in the state could do a hybrid model, which brings back up to 50% of students at a time for in-person learning. Schools with fewer than 100 students are eligible to bring back all students with restrictions, an option that generally doesn’t apply to APS; and small-group instruction can open to all grades, which also has limitations.
Given the news, Elder said, the APS administration will be looking into its reopening strategy and present paths forward to the board.
“The key word is ‘considering.’ How soon, how many and which students can be safely brought back to school is being discussed, and a final decision hasn’t been made yet,” he said.
Moving forward with any of the options to let more kids back into the classroom requires districts to meet a hefty safety checklist from the state Public Education Department to mitigate COVID-19 spread. Among the requirements is keeping kids distanced and in set groups and upgrading air filtration systems. Each school must undergo a site visit for a review of adherence to the rules.
Elder said that APS’ school buildings are ready but that inspecting more than 140 schools will take time.
“I don’t think it’s an issue with the district not being ready. It’s an issue that when we were asked how long would we need, we said we’d probably need at least a minimum of three weeks and we were given one and a half,” he said.
Another major concern is getting enough bus drivers to go from remote to some in-person learning.
Although Feb. 8 is a beginning date for more face-to-face learning in New Mexico and schools can open after that, Elder says it’s been somewhat frustrating to have such a big change of course in a short amount of time.
“We may not be ready on Feb. 8, but we expect we will be able to come back in some form very soon thereafter,” he said, declining to give prospective dates.