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What families can expect when schools reopen

Wilson Middle School Principal Teise Reiser walks through an outdoor area where students can play and eat lunch. Campuses at Albuquerque Public Schools are scheduled to reopen Monday for in-person learning. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Gabriella Blakey remembers going into the grocery store for the first time during the pandemic. It’s an errand she had done countless times, but there was a new sense of trepidation with COVID-19 to think about.

That’s what she imagines some Albuquerque Public Schools students may feel Monday when they return to the classroom. All APS schools are slated to open for students who want in-person learning after the New Mexico Public Education Department pushed for schools across the state to bring students back by April 5.

“Taking that first step into a building or a place, I think is kind of the biggest challenge. It’s really an emotional challenge … I really think that for our families, for our staff and for just us as a community, it’s just taking that first step into the building,” said Blakey, the interim chief operations officer at APS.

As teachers and staff without a health accommodation began working from school Monday, Blakey was at Wilson Middle School discussing what school will look and feel like.

Albuquerque Public Schools Interim Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey says she is confident schools have prepared as much as they can for students to return to campus, which includes providing thermometers and other safety supplies. (Roberto E. Rosales/ Journal)

Is it safe?

Blakey said she thinks opening schools is safe but there are a lot of precautions in place because the pandemic is still a threat.

“I think that we’ve done all of the factors in the schools to keep in front of the virus and to limit any sort of potential for spread of the virus,” Blakey said. APS is following state Department of Health and PED guidelines to open schools.

Is there concern about reopening after APS was on spring break last week?

Blakey, pointing to the state’s coronavirus vaccination efforts and cautious approach during the pandemic, said she feels confident that state officials wouldn’t send students back to school if there were high levels of concern.

How many APS students are coming back?

Blakey didn’t have an exact count but said an informal survey done at the end of last week is indicating roughly 50% to 60% of each school’s student population is expected to return.

Albuquerque Public Schools teachers and staff are preparing classrooms for students’ return next week. Desks at Wilson Middle School are separated with as much social distancing as possible. (Roberto E. Rosales/ Journal)

What are some of the main changes families can expect?

Hallways are marked to keep foot traffic separated and signs are posted to remind students to wash their hands and wear masks. There will also be extra soap in the bathrooms and more hand sanitizer throughout the school. There are also subtle differences such as water bottle refill stations versus water fountains and trash cans have had lids removed to minimize touching.

How many bus routes will be running?

Blakey estimates about 90% of bus routes will be operating on April 5.

“We’re pretty confident that most of our students will be able to ride the bus,” she said, adding that the district is short about 30 drivers.

How will classrooms be set up?

Classrooms are situated to optimize as much social distancing as space allows. In many classrooms, that will mean desks are about 3 feet apart.

“In most classes, you’ll see students will be facing forward and there won’t be somebody sitting directly next to them,” Blakey said.

In some classes – such as a special education class that requires close contact – there are Plexiglas barriers on desks.

How many APS employees have been vaccinated?

Blakey said all employees have been offered at least a first dose.

Is there anything else families should know about students returning to school?

There’s a checklist on for families to prepare for back to school, including packing a water bottle and a charged laptop or tablet.

“I’m very confident that the schools are prepared. We’ve done a lot of work,” Blakey said.

Some classrooms in APS will have Plexiglas dividers, especially for classes that require close contact. (Roberto E. Rosales/ Journal)