Class is soon to be back session. New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart announced Monday all public and charter schools in the state can fully reopen campuses April 5. The state is phasing out hybrid-learning models, which combine in-person and remote learning, in favor of full-time classroom instruction.

It will be the first time New Mexico schools return to a traditional instruction model since the start of the pandemic a year ago.

The news came as the state Department of Health announced all educators and school staff — from early childhood professionals to K-12 personnel — will have the opportunity to receive at least their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the month under a Biden administration initiative designed to accelerate school openings.

Still, some local school leaders expressed concerns about the plan to fully reopen campuses. Stewart’s announcement also could complicate matters for Santa Fe Public Schools, which came to an agreement last week with the National Education Association-Santa Fe that requires teachers and staff members without special accommodations to return to campus after they are fully vaccinated.

Grace Mayer, an art teacher at Milagro Middle School and NEA-Santa Fe president, said the union made the agreement with the district in good faith and doesn’t intend to back out of it.

“We will try to maintain our local control and enforce the [memorandum of understanding] that gives us a little bit more time to vaccinate everybody fully,” Mayer said.

The New Mexico School Boards Association released a statement Monday saying its members felt blindsided by Stewart’s announcement. Association President Olivia Calabaza said she was concerned the state did not seek input from school boards.

However, Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce called the full reopening of schools “long overdue.”

“It’s been a devastating experience, and students have fallen behind academically and socially,” Pearce said in a statement. “It will be hard to tell whether the Governor’s action will have a long-lasting impact on our state.”

Beginning this week, child care and school workers outside the Albuquerque area who have registered for the vaccine will be offered a dose, the Department of Health said in a news release. Next week, the inoculation program will move into the Albuquerque area, and March 22 it will be offered to educators who have newly registered or have not received a shot for some other reason.

In the meantime, the state will continue focusing its distribution efforts on health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, people 75 and older and those 16 and over who have medical conditions putting them at risk of a severe infection, Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said in the statement.

She added health providers have so far vaccinated more than 15,000 educators.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase, who appeared in a news conference with Stewart on Monday, said data shows vaccines are having a significant effect on bringing down the number of coronavirus cases. Recent modeling from Los Alamos National Laboratory showed vaccines were a driving force in reducing the seven-day average daily case count to 260 as of Monday, he said, compared with 781 on Jan. 29.

The state reported just 126 new cases Monday.

“We’re really seeing a substantial effect of the vaccine now,” Scrase said.

Stewart said students can choose to remain in remote learning, but districts will have to iron out the logistics of teaching students both in the classroom and online.

He emphasized all schools should be fully open by April 5 to students whose families choose to return to campus.

“Our message to New Mexico public schools today is that you now can and should move as quickly as you can to get every student who wants in-person learning back into your classrooms or in-person learning every school day,” Stewart said.

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said she was excited about the prospect of fully reopening schools but needed to review the Public Education Department’s updated guidelines.

García cited a concern about classroom space, especially if the district has to continue ensuring 6 feet of social distancing between all students and staff. She also noted the district’s agreement with the union.

The state “says everyone can come back, but then you have to follow COVID-safe practices and you have to follow your collective bargaining agreement,” García said. “The details are in the fine print. It makes for a nice headline, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Stewart said the decision to fully reopen schools was due in part to the new vaccination process for teachers and staff. He also said data accumulated over time suggests schools are safe to reopen. Surveillance testing conducted since Sept. 8 shows only 1 percent of teachers and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, he said, and the positivity rate since Feb. 8, when students at all grade levels were allowed to return to the classroom in a hybrid model, was 0.3 percent.

The Public Education Department reported 52,200 of New Mexico’s 330,000 public and charter school students are now learning on campus for at least two days a week, while learning remotely for the other three days. Out of more than 50,000 teachers and support staff members, the department said 17,000 have returned to campus.

“We know that districts have been preparing for this for a long time,” Stewart said. “We’ve done site visits at over two-thirds of the schools across the state that have put in all the COVID-safe practices and the indoor air quality measures, and we’ll continue to finalize the rest in the next couple of weeks.”

(13) comments


So if school Teachers are jumping the line over the 65 and over group, does that mean school janitors, cafeteria workers, office clerks, councilors, school principals, buss drivers, cross walk aids, etc. etc. get to jump the line too?

Kathleen Miller

Kathleen Miller

The New England Journal of Medicine article did not say that the first dose would be 90% effective for everyone. That rate was only for those who had already tested positive for COVID-19. For those who had tested negative it was a much lower efficacy rate.

Rudy Penczer

The Santa Fe New Mexican office must be in "hybrid", this is a terribly written article. The first four sentences are demonstrably false. It is only worsened by allowing a comment that claims children exhale poisonous gas and hence should not wear masks! This is tabloid stuff!!

Lisa Jo Goldman

"...class..back in session." Please tell me, then, what we educators have been doing since last August? Class HAS been in session, as difficult as it has been. We have employed creative problem solving to ensure that students don't "fall behind"--What, exactly, or whom are we falling behind? Who or what is measuring this? Is this a race? I am curious as to how schools will enforce social distancing and other precautionary measures in order to prevent another spike in cases among students. Sure, educators have been moved to the front of the line, but most students are not. The mandate to re-open schools will only cause a new spike in cases (especially a few weeks after Spring Break). We have gotten through most of this year to the best of our ability; to add yet ANOTHER change that children must adapt to ignores basic development psychology. Sure, we want the world to be normal, but it is not. To pretend otherwise is dangerous. Students have had to adapt to the best of their ability to a year online or hybrid; now, we add yet another variable? It's all politics, and I am tired of it. Please, let us finish out this year SAFELY, work with professional development to ensure we can return safely in the fall, and stop the hyperbole of "falling behind". This is about student health (both emotional and physical); not about a race.

Kathleen Miller

Well said.

Karry Howard

If carbon monoxide is bad for the earth, I don't believe it is safe for anyone to breathe it in for 35 hours a week much less a little kid. We had a child at my kid's elementary pass out at school last week from being forced to wear a mask. This is child abuse. They sent a video out to the parents when they first started the hybrid model stating that parents needed to bring extra masks because once the kids' masks were wet they had to take them off to let them air dry before the kids could reapply them to their face. They are using these masks as a medical device at schools and even with all the PPP monies given, not one of our "science approach officials" has found it necessary to get biohazard waste receptacles to properly dispopose of the biohazard they create. They can't really talk about being "green" either when they don't mind polluting our oceans and landfills with these filthy masks. If they want to open the schools back up there should not be strings attached to our kids or teachers for their return. They have been through enough already. This is all quite disgusting actually.

Michael Schneider

The MOU that was signed by NEA and SFPS almost three full weeks (2/20/21) after the CDC director clearly stated vaccination of teachers was not necessary for their return to the classroom! I'm happy for the teachers to get their first shot which according to the New England Journal of Medicine has a first dose efficacy of over 90%. Parents have been incredibly patient. It is time for SFPS and NEA to show some, leadership, reason and common sense. See you at school on April 5th.

Judy Montoya

this is a bad idea. Yes our kids are behind and yes they need to get back to normalcy but this isn't over. I would rather have my kids behind and ALIVE then put them in this environment . If bars and movies are still a bad idea how about 200 kids gathering.

TJ Welch

Glad you’re retiring Garcia. Your continued laziness and disregard of science combined with your bad deals, self congratulatory school board meetings and overall unbalanced approach to handling getting kids back to school is finally coming to a close. It’s safe for teachers. Get them back to work and kids back to learning how to be social. And yes, when it comes to younger kids, going back even for a couple weeks before summer will be so helpful in many ways.

Henry R.

Oh come on Steve Pearce, the lasting impact will be that lives were saved and these kids will still have their parents, grand parents, brothers and sisters and friends to go home to.

While I’m sure it’s been difficult for some parents to work and try to help keep their kids on track with remote learning, it was the parents choice to have children and ultimately their responsibility to care for them. I do however hope all goes well with fully opening up schools. I’m sure many parents also want school sports to fully resume so that their kids can be on the fields and courts having fun; and it should be for fun because the probability of making it big in sports after high school is pretty dismal to say the least.

John Cook


Robert Kowalski

What an utter waste. Why even attempt it when the kids will have a little over a month left of school? This could have been done months ago.

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