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APS stays virtual, but allows some small groups

Wilson Middle School teacher Brita Judd teaches online. The board will keep virtual learning, but allow small groups for those in need. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools students will continue learning virtually, although the board Wednesday night cleared the way to expand in-person learning slightly to include additional small groups of students, possibly those at risk of failing or seniors who need the additional help.

The Board of Education voted 6-1 to allow limited in-person groups, but otherwise remain in remote schooling.

Wednesday night’s decision almost certainly ends any hope for APS’ 13 high schools to participate in the four fall sports: football, soccer, volleyball and cross-country. Because of the pandemic, fall sports had to be pushed into the second semester.

Bernalillo County was recently allowed to relax COVID-19 restrictions because of an improved coronavirus test positivity rate.

If the county continues to improve, the APS board indicated that it could ramp up in-person learning at that time.

Interim Superintendent Scott Elder admitted at the beginning of the discussion that whatever direction the board took, it was likely going to make some people unhappy.

According to APS data, about half of parents are ready to get their children back to school and half aren’t on board.

“Over one third are planning to finish the year remotely,” district officials wrote in a presentation to the board.

Wednesday’s decision to keep remote learning as the primary way APS students learn stays the course for the district, which has stuck with online learning for the entire school year. Mostly just students with disabilities have been given some face-to-face instruction.

Thousands of people were watching the virtual meeting to see what the state’s largest school district was going to do.

Public comment brought opinions on both sides of the reopening debate.

“Online learning is terrible,” Beckam Reeves, a sixth-grader, said.

And Jonathan Martinez, an educator, said teachers can’t wait to come back, but they want to do so when it’s safer.

If teachers and other school staff get wider access to the COVID-19 vaccine, the board said it is open to revisiting its plan. In fact, a resolution is in the works urging state officials to prioritize vaccination for school employees.

Elder said principals and assistant principals are already working from school, or are ready to, for the most part. Teachers, however, aren’t so keen.

“A supermajority of teachers are not ready to work on site right now,” he said. Nearly two-thirds of teachers said they are not ready to come back right now and about half want to stay remote for the rest of the year.

Earlier this month, the board tabled its discussion on reopening schools after talking for hours about the route it should take. A road map that would have allowed students to return to the classroom starting at the end of February was not given the green light and students have been learning remotely in the meantime.

The school reopening debate was given new life recently after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced in-person learning options would be expanding, allowing more classrooms statewide to open as early as Feb. 8. That move included middle and high schools, which largely hadn’t been allowed to open since the pandemic hit. Ultimately, the decision rests in the hands of school boards and charter school leaders.

‘Holding out hope’

The mood was incredibly somber all across the city as coaches absorbed the news that emerged from the board meeting.

“I don’t see a way out,” Eldorado High boys soccer coach Tom Hirschman said. “What do we do? We don’t have a (carrot) to hold in front of these kids any more.”

APS was already facing a compressed schedule for the fall sports – such as only five games for a football season, for example. And now, barring something unforseen, there’s almost no way any athlete in APS will be able to play a fall sport.

“It’s just sad for the seniors,” La Cueva football coach Brandon Back said. “They’ve given up so much. And to have it taken out when it felt like it was close … ”

Cibola High football coach Rod Williams was trying to maintain an optimistic tone.

“I’m holding out hope that maybe the Governor’s Office would be willing to decouple that requirement that we have to be in hybrid (to participate in sports),” Williams said.


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