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Editorial: APS board decides teachers trump students

Members of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board quite simply failed the school district’s 80,000 students and their parents Wednesday night, putting responsibility to do the right thing for our kids in the governor’s and voters’ hands.

With no scientific data to support keeping schools largely closed, the board rejected a reasonable and safe hybrid in-person learning model proposed by interim Superintendent Scott Elder, who should be frustrated beyond end.

APS elementary schools have been closed to all but some special education students, and middle and high schools have been completely closed, since last March.

School board president David Peercy and board members Peggy Muller-Aragón and Elizabeth Armijo voted in favor of a model that would have allowed some form of hybrid, in-person education beginning in March. But they came up short in a 4-3 vote in which board members Lorenzo Garcia, Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Candelaria Patterson and Barbara Petersen voted against reopening, ignoring the heart-rending pleas of students.

In a subsequent roll call, the board voted 6-1 to slightly expand limited in-person learning, as staffing permits, to include additional small groups of students who aren’t making academic progress, who have major hurdles getting online or who are struggling with their mental health. Muller-Aragón cast the lone dissenting vote.

The decision was driven largely by a school district survey that says 66% of teachers are not ready to come back to schools. According to APS data, about half of parents are ready to get their children back to school.

And according to 1-minute pleas on Zoom during Wednesday’s board meeting, many students were ready to return months ago. Among them:

Adrian Chacon

Adrian Chacon

Student Adrian Chacon said, “There is a reason APS across all levels of education is experiencing the failure rates it is. Teachers and students alike were not prepared to teach or learn virtually. And while some … rose to the challenge and succeeded, many have not. This is why I beg you to let us to return to our school. Let us learn, let us live, and give us some form of normalcy in what feels like an abnormal world. … I implore you to do what is in the best interest of the people you represent and let us return to our in-person learning environment.”

Beckam Reeves

Beckam Reeves

Sixth grader Beckam Reeves said online learning has been awful and that he now suffers from panic attacks. “My grades are terrible because it’s so hard to pay attention in class. And it’s hard to force myself to do assignments because there are no teachers to hold me accountable. … Please let us go back in school. We are not OK.”

Benjamin Willhite

Benjamin Willhite

And Benjamin Willhite, a junior at La Cueva High School, said he’s like thousands across APS who want to play sports. “Leaders starting from the president to the CDC to our governor to the PED and even our very own APS administration believe that schools are a safe place to learn. … If you follow the science like you claim to, and listen to the experts like you should, the answer is astoundingly clear: We should be back in school. …”

Only two students spoke against returning to school. They were joined by numerous teachers who claim it is too early to return to classrooms safely. The Albuquerque Teachers Federation has opposed in-person learning for staff until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risks of reopening schools are acceptably low with proper precautions, and a North Carolina study in the Journal of American Pediatrics looked at 11 school districts and nearly 100,000 students and found “no instances of child-to adult transmission.”

Obviously the top reason for returning to some form of in-person learning is our children. But also to be considered is the impact on parents, many of whom cannot return to work while they oversee their children’s learning. The devastating effect this has had on parents, especially women, in terms of stress, an overload of responsibilities and stalled careers, and our economy overall is well documented.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham put reopening schools squarely in districts’ hands, and many have jumped at reopening successfully, including Española, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Roswell and Santa Fe. Unlike certain members of the APS board, these districts understand their duty is to their students. On Friday, the governor said she was “very disappointed” in the APS Board vote. She should follow up and exercise her considerable influence by pushing school boards to reopen.

She also should show flexibility in her edict requiring districts to offer the hybrid model before allowing prep sports. There is absolutely no scientific reason for this requirement – and uncoupling these two would enable thousands of students to return to some sense of normalcy.

Voters who understand they pay for schools to serve students, not adults, should remember the APS vote come election time. Or, more immediately, they can consider petitioning a recall election for the four APS board members who opposed reopening. Forms are available from the district court, and, according to New Mexico’s Recall Act, it takes 33.3% of the total number of voters who voted for the elected position to certify a petition and get a court hearing scheduled.

As Willhite pointed out Wednesday, all data shows we can safely reopen schools. If the majority of APS board members won’t listen to the president, governor and science, it’s time to replace them with some who will.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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