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If Bernalillo County meets certain COVID-19 spread thresholds, all K-12 Albuquerque Public Schools students who want to return would be able to go to school two days a week for a hybrid of in-person and online learning.
The Board of Education unanimously voted on Wednesday to allow students to return in this hybrid model if the county gets to the medium-risk green level. The state Public Education Department allows schools to bring back up to 50% of students at one time in the hybrid model as long as they meet safety requirements.
The New Mexico Department of Health considers a county as “green” when they reach a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 5% or less and fewer than eight new cases a day per 100,000 people.
Bernalillo County is currently in the “yellow,” meaning it has reached one of those standards.
Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said the district would need to get to green before May 1; otherwise, it would be too close to the end of the year.
After county designations are announced, teachers would have a week to prepare on site. Students would start going back to school the following week.
Monday and Tuesday would be for students with last names that start with A through L. Students with last names that start with M through Z would go to school Thursday and Friday.
On Wednesdays, all students would learn remotely.
“Even when we are in hybrid, I remind everyone that remote, digital instruction remains the primary mode of instruction for students both in the building and at home. We’ll have part of the student body at home, so the remote instruction does still occur,” Elder said.
Families will have the option to keep students learning exclusively online if they choose.
Should the county get to green, parents may have to arrange a ride to school initially. Elder said busing students remains an issue, among other challenges.
“We recognize that hybrid brings its own unique set of difficulties just like virtual did,” he said. “I would definitely say that, again, we are not going to be talking about a great deal of time here in these classroom settings. We are getting close to the end of the year, and I don’t know when we’ll make it to green,” Elder said.
APS board members had indicated previously that in-person learning could expand if coronavirus cases in the county continued to improve. Elder said using the green criteria to signal opening in the hybrid model has been on the table since the first semester.
Under that hybrid model, staffers would work from school unless they have an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Elder. Substitute teachers and potentially educational assistants could fill in for teachers allowed to work remotely.
Last month, the school board decided students would continue to learn virtually, while allowing in-person small groups for some K-12 students. That decision led to an announcement Wednesday that athletes will be allowed to return to their sports. Starting Monday, athletes at the district’s 13 high schools will be in pods for 14 days. Teams could return to full practices by March 22 if they meet state health protocols and varsity events in APS are expected to begin in March.
About 100 schools’ plans have been approved for their in-person small groups as of Wednesday afternoon, Elder told the board.
Until that recent move, APS stuck with online learning this school year with limited exceptions for students with disabilities.
The school district has been under heightened pressure by some students, especially athletes, and parents to open classrooms after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham allowed in-person learning options to expand starting in early February. That update included middle and high schools, which largely hadn’t been allowed to open since the pandemic hit.
Looking to next school year, Elder was optimistic.
“I do anticipate us being in school in the fall,” he said.
James Yodice contributed to this report.