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All Albuquerque Public Schools students in kindergarten through grade 12, as well as APS staff, faculty and school visitors, will have to wear a mask while indoors on school properties.
APS Superintendent Scott Elder made that recommendation, and the school board approved it, during a board meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Elder said he made his recommendation in anticipation of the Public Education Department revising its mask mandates to conform with revised guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.
“We’ve said all along that we’ve tried to follow the science,” Elder said. “Since the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommends that all people, regardless of vaccination, wear a mask indoors, we’re recommending that, inside all APS properties, regardless of vaccination status, people wear a mask.”
Masks will not be required for outdoor events, he said. “So, if outdoor classes are held, if there are outdoor events or gatherings, people do not have to wear a mask.” That includes out-of-school sports, such as football, soccer or cross-country.
Acknowledging that the state’s public health orders still require that unvaccinated people wear a mask, Elder said, “I don’t want to turn my principals or my teachers into the vaccination patrol, so we are recommending a universal policy. We think that serves best, we think it’s easiest.”
But even a universal policy has exceptions.
Students who play volleyball, which is an indoor sport, will not have to wear a mask if they can prove they have been vaccinated. That policy has been adopted by the New Mexico Activities Association. “So, for athletics, we’ll follow the NMAA guidelines,” Elder said. Indoor spectators, however, will be asked to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, he said.
Students will also be required to wear a mask on school buses. “That will allow us to begin to put more students back on buses and get transportation back up and running, and we understand that’s a vital need,” Elder said.
If a student removes or refuses to wear a mask, he said, “I am suggesting that maybe we consider this just like dress code, and not go out and build special disciplinary processes for something that hopefully will go away sooner rather than later.”
APS will continue limiting the number of non-APS staff on campus, “especially those within physical proximity to students,” Elder said.
The lone critic of Elder’s mask plan was board member Peggy Mueller-Aragón, who said she was troubled by the “segregation” of dividing student athletes into “vaccinated and unvaccinated.”
“I would rather that parents decide to have their children wear a mask or not wear a mask,” she said.
Mueller-Aragón also questioned why health officials categorized Bernalillo County as having “substantial” risk in the recurrence of COVID cases, noting that the county had a high percentage of people who have been vaccinated.
“As far as I know, the delta variant is still, from every single study and everything that I’ve read, that if you’re immunized you’re still protected against that variant.”
Kristine Meurer, executive director for the Student Family and Community Supports Division, explained that “substantial” is not about the number of people vaccinated, but about the number of people who are testing positive for COVID.
“In the past month, all of the positive cases that we’ve had in Albuquerque Public Schools that we’ve had to report have been vaccinated individuals,” Meurer said. “Think of it like when you get the flu shot, you can still get the flu, but chances are the symptoms are going to be more mild. And that’s typically what happens when someone is vaccinated (for COVID). But once they contract COVID they can still transmit it to others, … and right now Bernalillo County is considered substantial in terms of transmission of the virus, because we are still seeing transmission numbers starting to go back up again.”