Nicholas Salazar moves a desk to meet social-distancing requirements while preparing his classroom at Capital High School in February for students. Salazar, a former Capital student, said he was excited to return to campus so he can teach health and fitness, and coach baseball.

New Mexico public schools have a long way to go if they are to meet goals for returning students to the classroom set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the administration of President Joe Biden.

An analysis by the Associated Press shows 5 percent of students from kindergarten through eighth grade can walk through school doors full time. The national average for a similar age group was around to 45 percent in February.

The governor has urged schools to open their doors to in-person learning for all students April 5.

On Thursday, Biden reiterated his goal to have over half of K-8 schools open by March 20, his 100th day in office.

The state and federal government are dedicating enormous resources to rebooting in-person education and making up for learning loss. State officials haven’t estimated the toll on learning for the entire pandemic, but a legislative analysis found learning loss of between four and 12 months as a result of the last spring’s closures alone.

An increased percentage of New Mexico students were failing at least one class last fall, and some rural districts still hadn’t connected students to the internet. The clock is ticking to get students in front of teachers before the semester ends.

More students can access full-time and partial in-person learning in New Mexico as more teachers get vaccinated and more schools open their doors. Around 85 percent of all educators, including those who work in pre-K and universities, have received at least one shot, and a third are fully vaccinated.

Lujan Grisham gave schools the green light to reopen starting March 8.

Since then, the federal government included an additional $900 million in funds for New Mexico schools and part of the American Rescue Plan and loosened social-distancing requirements from 6 feet to 3 feet, allowing more students in each classroom.

The Public Education Department says nearly 30 percent of students have access to some form of in-person learning, including those who are part of small-group or special education programs, attend two days per week in a hybrid system, or attend full time. Some schools in the state normally run four days per week, but most are five.

A Biden administration survey of school reentry found nearly 60 percent of Black and Latino students attended schools in remote-learning modes in February, compared to nearly 30 percent of white students. Access by Native American students varied widely by region, and not enough surveys were collected from New Mexico or the Southwest to draw conclusions.

The Navajo Nation reported in a survey taken by the state a year ago this month that around 75 percent of its students did not have internet at home. State efforts and federal funds allowed schools to purchase hot spots and laptops for many students in the ensuing months, though some didn’t have access as early as December.

The New Mexico Public Education Department provides weekly updates on school reentry status, but does not break down data by enrollment for full or remote learners. It also doesn’t track demographics.

“PED is offering its full support to help every New Mexico district and charter school return to full in-person learning on or before April 5,” said spokeswoman Judy Robinson.

Citing logistical hurdles to testing during the pandemic, state officials have asked for a federal waiver from blanket academic testing requirements that could reduce spring testing from 95 percent of students to a representative sample of around 1 percent. Meanwhile, education advocates worry it might complicate efforts to target needy students next year.

“We have been a bit disappointed in that the PED has not been tracking sort of educational outcomes and harms done in quite the way that we would like to see happen,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, in the presentation with Heinrich.

He applauded state officials for taking emergency measures to get students online, and for laying the groundwork for expanding broadband in a bill that passed last week.

“I feel like they — Governor Lujan Grisham, and the [education] secretary — have tried to begin to address that, and the Legislature just created an office of broadband — essentially, technology — to make sure that we can start addressing this lack of access in a systemic way,” Jimenez said.

(1) comment

Karry Howard

On the surface, this is a sign of some progress. Our 2 older junior high school children returned to school a couple of weeks ago. The climate in our house has tremendously calmed down from 3 simultaneous zoom meetings going on all the whilst my wife taking her phone calls doing EAP work.

Our kids are glad to get out of the house and be able to see friends and things like that. The elephant in the room now is that my children are forced to wear a ridiculous mask now for like 7.5 hours a day 5 days a week. My oldest son told me that in his P.E. class they make them run up and down these bleechers in the gym screaming at them to pull their masks up over their noses. Our youngest has asthma so we have an oximeter to check all of their oxygen levels and use the nebulizer if needed every day when they get home.

What's most alarming is that my oldest son does not have asthma yet now when he comes home from school his oxygen levels resemble those of his little brothers when he is having an asthma attack. His eyes are hooded and his oxygen has ranged from as low as 90 to 94. My daughter's oxygen stays around 95 to 96. This is the exact reason I see forcing masks on children is child abuse.

We are letting them finish out the year and if by the start of next year they are still dragging knuckles requiring masks or a toxic mRNA vaccine our only option is to do the k12 school so our children can have a safe learning environment.

Kids these days have a zero attention span and realistically have an uphill battle learning the curriculum and being able to complete their studies. The only thing kids can focus on at school is trying to breathe some fresh air before the teachers scream at them to put their mask over their noses. I can only imagine how hard it is for the teachers having to implement these tactics day in and day out. It breaks my heart.

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