Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that Santa Fe Public Schools doesn’t plan to return to any form of in-person learning until Feb. 22.
Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – While New Mexico school districts could restart in-person learning on Feb. 8, such plans seem less likely in Santa Fe, where social distancing and vaccines have proven to be major sticking points.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García, who oversees one of the state’s largest districts, announced Friday her district most likely won’t return to in-person learning before Feb. 22, and only then under a “voluntary hybrid” model.
In addition, in an opinion piece submitted to the Journal, García said the various requirements for in-person learning made it not a viable option for the district at this time.
More details about the district’s plan will be given at the Santa Fe school board’s Feb. 4 meeting, García said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had announced Tuesday that districts could reopen Feb. 8 if they met certain safety requirements.
Specifically, Garcia said many of the district’s buildings aren’t large enough to teach students while keeping them socially distanced.
Many of the concerns, though, revolved around staffing schools properly for in-person classes. García said around 300 district employees would be exempt due to their age or medical condition, which could lead to staffing issues at some school sites.
And vaccines continue to be an issue as many teachers still haven’t received their first dose.
National Education Association-Santa Fe, which represents most teachers and staff in the district, said a majority of its members want the option of being vaccinated before returning to work in-person.
“We have an aging population of educators in our district,” NEA-Santa Fe President Grace Mayer told the Journal. “I just think that it’s necessary that we’re vaccinated prior to going in.”
The district would have to renegotiate terms with union officials and the union’s position could render those negotiations “futile,” García’s statement said.
“Given these circumstances, the only viable option is for SFPS to return in a voluntary hybrid model,” she said.
SFPS previously had a voluntary hybrid model last semester, where staff and students could volunteer to return part-time, but suspended the program after two weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases in the community.
The hybrid model, which was available only for students up to sixth grade, was able to accommodate only 5% of eligible students due to the low number of teachers who volunteered. Mayer said a future hybrid program could face similar issues.
“We’re certainly going to have that again,” Mayer said, but added SFPS is better suited for online learning than other districts.