Albuquerque Public Schools will welcome back all students who want in-person learning on April 5.
Interim Superintendent Scott Elder said every school is preparing to open its doors to allow students to learn on campus five days a week for the first time in what will be over a year due to the pandemic.
Aligning with direction from the state, APS will give students the opportunity to continue learning remotely for the rest of the 2020-21 school year if families aren’t ready for them to get back to school.
The plan follows a major announcement from the New Mexico Public Education Department earlier this week that all schools are expected to return to full in-person learning by that early April date.
School leaders across the state were told about the change in course Monday morning.
It wasn’t until early February that all grades were permitted to do a hybrid of in-person and online learning.
The plan outlined on Friday in a special APS Board of Education meeting translates to 37 instructional days at school. Board members did not vote on it.
Elder is expecting to know around March 19 how many students are coming back.
Being on campus during a pandemic will inherently look different. Mask-wearing will be required and social distancing will be expected.
“The reality is that full reentry will create situations in classes where we are unable to keep people 6 feet apart, but we’re assured that is OK,” Elder said. “But the goal is to maintain social distancing … to the greatest extent possible.”
That could look like 3 feet of social distancing in some cases, he said.
Group activities will be minimized, sharing school supplies will be avoided and there won’t be field trips or assemblies.
And lunches are recommended to be outside as much as possible. Meals will still be provided for students learning remotely but pickup locations will likely be moved from schools to other locations.
Water fountains will be off limits, but there will be stations to fill up water bottles.
Students learning at school will have to bring their laptops or tablets to class every day as some work will still be online.
“There will be times during the day that the teachers will need to teach both their remote and their in-person students simultaneously,” Elder said.
Transportation and teachers
Some parents may have to make drop-off and pickup arrangements, at least initially.
Getting enough bus drivers remains an issue for APS; families who are able are encouraged to drive their kids.
“Currently, we have 200 drivers that are on staff. Usually, we need over 400,” Elder said.
APS has reached out to contractors but there will not be full bus service beginning April 5, he said.
Busing for special education students will be maintained and schools that need transportation most will be prioritized.
Elder said the aim is for staff to return to school the week before students come back as classrooms are currently set up for hybrid.
Staff will be required to work from school unless they are one of the 1,152 school personnel who have a special high-risk accommodation.
“Those people that are in that category have to wait two weeks after their second vaccination before returning,” Elder said.
That means some teachers may not be in the classroom right away. Their classes would either have to wait to return to school until the teacher can come onto campus or they’d learn at school with a substitute overseeing the class.
Teachers and other school employees becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine has been a game-changer in reopening schools.
“We are already seeing a significant uptick in the number of school-based personnel that are receiving their vaccine,” Elder said, adding that next week there are six shot clinics scheduled for APS employees.
‘Jumping over hybrid’
As for facilities, Elder told the Journal that all schools are largely ready to go.
He said ventilation prep is done and schools are stocked up with cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
“We’re in very good shape,” he said.
Still, opening more than 140 schools will be a massive shift for the state’s largest school district. APS wasn’t slated to start hybrid for all grades until Bernalillo County met certain COVID-19 spread criteria — a plan approved just over a week ago. And under that hybrid model, students would have had in-person learning only two days a week.
The district’s students have been learning primarily online, although some students have been able to participate in in-person small groups.
Plans outlined on Friday make way for all students to be able to return to school in under a month.
“We’re just basically jumping over hybrid and going back into full reentry,” Elder said.