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Students who aren’t making academic progress, who have major hurdles getting online or who are struggling with their mental health are among those being prioritized for limited in-person learning on Albuquerque Public Schools campuses.
Educators at the school level will be the ones to pick which children return to the classroom in small groups based on need and teacher availability.
“I think the concept was to create some flexibility at the school. So that those teachers who were willing to return could really begin to identify kids for a variety of reasons,” Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said during a news conference on Thursday.
The APS Board of Education decided on Wednesday to finish the school year with virtual learning – after two marathon discussions this month on whether to reopen schools – while allowing for small-group instruction on campus for certain students. That decision also clears the way for campus visits by kindergartners and sixth and ninth graders who may have yet to see their schools. Only board member Peggy Muller-Aragón voted no.
Members had already voted down a proposal to bring some elementary students back to school for in-person learning a few days a week starting March 1, relying on teachers to volunteer. That plan also would have allowed a hybrid of in-person and online schooling for all students if the county was rated “green” by the state Department of Health. But that was struck down on a 4-3 vote.
Voting against the proposal were Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Barbara Petersen, Lorenzo Garcia and Candelaria Patterson. Voting in favor were Muller-Aragón, Elizabeth Armijo and Board President David Peercy.
Parents can anticipate their child’s school to reach out as early as next week if their child is selected for the face-to-face groups.
Elder noted this model means that not all students will get the opportunity to come to campus.
“Those groups may modify over time. Teachers may choose to work with different groups of kids over that period of time. So, just because you didn’t hear something immediately wouldn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t be included later,” Elder said.
The small groups will be implemented between Feb. 22 and March 8.
“We anticipate some groups being able to start by the first but we wouldn’t stop schools if they wanted to start earlier,” Elder said.
Important to make decision
Peercy said it was important for the board to make a decision on whether to reopen schools. After all, they previously tabled the issue and left the community waiting two weeks for a determination.
But that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with virtual learning.
Lawyers for one APS student are asking the district for $20,000 to cover the cost of the child attending a private school for in-person learning.
According to a tort claim notice filed with the district earlier this month, a student, identified as K.R., is being “denied a free, adequate and in-person education,” which the document says is guaranteed by the state Constitution. The filing points out Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham authorized more in-person learning for students of all ages in New Mexico starting Feb. 8.
K.R. has offered to resolve any claims against APS in exchange for $20,000, which must be received by the law firm Atkinson, Baker and Rodriguez by March 1.
Justin Rodriguez, the lawyer who filed the notice, declined to talk about it Thursday and an APS spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Two Republican lawmakers fired off their own criticism of keeping learning primarily online for the district’s students.
Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, said members “should be ashamed of themselves.” And Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said the board “betrayed our students.”
Peercy wrote in an email to the Journal: “They have every right to make their position known. Sometimes we don’t agree with their vote.”
Looking to the future, Elder said the district is planning for face-to-face graduations in some capacity and preparations are being made for in-person summer school options should virus conditions allow.
Journal staff writer Edmundo Carrillo contributed to this report.