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Legislators question secretaries of education, human services


Markers on the floor in the lunchroom are intended to help kids socially distance at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe in October. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart told lawmakers Wednesday that the state’s reopening plan was designed to offer districts and charter schools the flexibility to return to classrooms when they believe they can do so safely.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart speaks before a joint meeting of the House and Senate education committees about the state’s school reopening plan. (New Mexico Legislature)

In a joint hearing of the state House and Senate education committees, he acknowledged the complexity facing districts trying to accelerate the hiring of support staff, comply with indoor air quality requirements and ease the disruption to families’ online routines.

“These are not easy decisions, nor are they easy to implement,” Stewart said.

Questioned by lawmakers about athletics, Stewart said the administration’s position is that a school must reopen on the hybrid model – with a mix of instruction online and in person – before offering New Mexico Activities Association sports.

“Getting students back into the classroom needs to come first before schools go into sports,” Stewart said.

Human Services Secretary David Scrase said the administration and its medical advisers pored over medical literature to examine the risk of bringing students back to school.

It appears to be rare, he said, for students to transmit the virus to teachers.

More broadly, the infections in schools, Scrase said, tend to match the overall coronavirus trends in a community. In New Mexico, he said, he is optimistic because the state is now vaccinating about 8,500 people a day, while new cases have fallen to around 500 some days.

For the first time, he said, he believes the state is winning the race against the virus.

Stars are painted 6 feet apart on the sidewalk at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe to keep students socially distanced when they return. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

“We think we’ve got some information here that reassures it’s safe for kids to go back to school,” Scrase said.

Rep. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, questioned whether it’s worthwhile to bring students back to school shortly before spring break and before widespread vaccination of teachers.

Under a reopening plan announced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, public schools can expand in-person learning starting Monday.

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