PED's call to reopen schools shakes up existing plans - Albuquerque Journal

PED’s call to reopen schools shakes up existing plans

Markers on the floor in the lunchroom are intended to help kids socially distance at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe in October. Santa Fe Public Schools is eyeing an April 6 target date for a return to in-person learning. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Education and union leaders are looking at what the state Public Education Department’s push for full in-person learning would mean for their districts and staff.

On Monday, PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said all public schools in New Mexico will be expected to open fully for in-person learning by April 5.

Not everyone was expecting the announcement – the New Mexico School Boards Association said it was “blindsided” – and it has left school personnel evaluating their next steps.

Albuquerque Public Schools officials said in a news release Monday that they would rework school reopening plans and present them to the Board of Education.

The APS board is scheduled to hold a special virtual meeting at 7:30 a.m. Friday to discuss an update of the districtwide school reentry plan. Notably, it is not an action item, which means the board will not vote.

In Santa Fe, Grace Mayer, National Education Association-Santa Fe president, said the PED’s timeline conflicts with an agreement the union has with Santa Fe Public Schools.

While the state said that K-12 teachers and staff are now eligible to get COVID-19 vaccinations, Mayer said the union’s agreements don’t require teachers to go back to the classroom until two weeks after they are fully vaccinated. Educators who have a medical waiver are exempt, which Mayer says applies to about 300 people, and they can choose to come back to school after being fully vaccinated or continue working remotely until May.

“(Let’s) say the majority of us get the first shot this week. We can all count out the number of days, and that takes us at least a week and a half later into April,” Mayer said.

Stewart said Monday that high-risk staff exemptions will be available until two weeks after the school employee’s final vaccine dose has been made available to them.

“At which point, the employee and the employer can engage in conversation about what accommodations, if any, should continue with that employee,” he said.

SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia wrote in an email to the community Tuesday that the district’s target date to return to full in-person learning is April 6 because schools in the district are closed April 5.

The email also said, “SFPS is working with the unions on the Public Education Department’s guidelines and with NEA-Santa Fe on the (memorandum of understanding).”

The union isn’t planning on stepping back from its agreement, Mayer said earlier Tuesday.

“It’s a legal binding document,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state PED didn’t address the question of whether the department has authority over elected school boards and charter schools’ governing councils to require schools to open for full in-person learning.

But spokeswoman Judy Robinson said, “The PED has a broad mandate in state statute to provide oversight in the administration of public schools.”

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