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SANTA FE – Students sent home to quarantine for COVID-19 will soon have remote learning options at Santa Fe Public Schools.
Nearly a month into the school year, students sent home with COVID-19 or because they had close contact with someone who had COVID-19 did not have any learning options – raising the risk that they may fall behind in school.
Since the school year began, 60 students have been sent home to quarantine with COVID-19 as of Aug. 27, according to the district. In addition, 328 students and staff members were sent home to quarantine after having close contact.
Now, after an outcry from teachers and parents, the school district is launching a remote learning option for students in this situation.
Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said the district had been working on a remote learning option for the past few weeks. He said it has come to an agreement with the teachers union to allow teachers to provide instruction outside the normal school day – for which they will be compensated.
Quarantined students will also have help with coursework throughout the day from volunteer tutors. The district currently has 23 volunteer tutors available to help students.
“So, we’re really trying to cover the entire day, providing options for the students to attend,” Chavez said. “Still having them meet with their teachers, still discuss maybe questions that they weren’t able to answer, or … questions that they couldn’t really resolve at the tutoring session during the day.”
Despite concerns, Chavez said less than 1% of the student population is quarantined at any one time and there’s no indication that COVID-19 transmission is occurring in schools. He said the challenging part is making sure contact tracing is done properly and everyone is notified.
Currently, students who had close contact with COVID-19 can choose to quarantine for 10 days, or can return to school with a negative COVID-19 test. Students who contracted the virus can return to school when, among other criteria, they are fever free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication, according to the district.
COVID-19 vaccinations are not required by the district at this time.
Kate Noble, president of the Santa Fe Board of Education, said her own child had to be quarantined due to a COVID-19 close contact, but was able to return to school with a negative test.
She said she thinks the team at Santa Fe Public Schools did a good job getting updated COVID-19 testing sites in coordination with the Department of Health. This has helped kids get tested and return to school more quickly.
“My perspective, as a school board member, is we have to keep assessing the situation,” she said. “COVID is very serious, and health and safety has to trump a lot of things.”
That being said, time out of school is significant. She said teachers are where the “rubber meets the road” and they need to keep the kids up to speed. She said hybrid teaching is very strenuous for teachers and that the district is looking at the burnout factor for staff.
Grace Mayer, NEA-Santa Fe president, said creating the remote learning option for students was a mutual decision by the district and the union. She said there was a simultaneous realization that the district needed a remote option.
She blames the New Mexico Public Education Department for not requiring students to get tested, which could be arranged with the school nurse.
“The parents have an option of testing them or not, and this is a huge problem,” she said. “The parent should not have an option.”
She said administering rapid response tests at schools could help working parents without a car or the ability to get to a testing site. Getting students more testing will help them return to school more quickly, she said, or help the district monitor a student who is sick with COVID-19, and arrange for services.
“To me, this is directly a result of not being prepared,” Mayer said of the education department.
She said it’s particularly frustrating because the district added 10 days to the school year to provide more instructional time, but that’s a total wash if a student must quarantine for 10 days even when they’re not sick. Mayer said she thinks it’s inevitable schools are going to close down again.
“I think people are going to have to make hard decisions. We have a lot more cases now than we did when we were remote,” she said. “I’m not sure what the governor’s position on that is, but I think we need to look at – do we want our children sick or are we going to protect them?”