The New Mexico Public Education Department on Tuesday announced a plan for K-12 students to return to school in August with a combination of in-person and online classes.

The guidelines for reopening call for schools to screen staff members for symptoms and check their temperatures daily while limiting attendance to 50 percent of a school’s capacity. Students and staff will have to wear masks in schools and on buses except while eating, drinking and exercising, with some medical exceptions, and a maximum of two students may sit together on a bus seat at a time.

Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment said the department is recommending schools open to half their students on Mondays and Tuesdays and close for cleaning on Wednesdays before opening to the other half on Thursdays and Fridays.

The department also gave districts the option to consider other types of schedules, provided they follow health and safety protocols.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García said her staff will spend the coming weeks surveying parents, and if enough want their students to continue learning from home exclusively, that could allow the district to welcome some students to campus four days a week.

Warniment and García said in terms of academic and social development, returning to campus is most important for elementary schools.

“We’re trying to advocate for the younger students. The students you want to prioritize are pre-K through third grade,” Warniment said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Those are the students who most need in-person attention.”

Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education President Kate Noble said a shortened school week will challenge working parents and strain an already-strapped child care system.

“It has to be an exercise in prioritization. Obviously, health and safety of our kids and teachers comes first,” said Noble, a vice president at United Way of Santa Fe County, which focuses on early childhood education and care. “But when there is a mismatch between what is being required by workplaces and what schools are offering, that elevates the importance of the child care industry, which is already facing reduced capacity and its own group-size limitations.”

Annjenette Torres, the Parent Teacher Organization president at Milagro Middle School, said while the recommended schedule makes sense given the circumstances, she isn’t convinced the shortened school week will be conducive to learning.



“It’s kind of choppy, this idea of half the kids half the week, and then the other half the other half of the week,” Torres said. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable with all the different learning styles kids have. Scheduling is one thing, but teaching and learning is another.”

The Public Education Department’s guidelines for reopening say the state Department of Health will regularly assess rates of the spread of COVID-19 in order to determine if a school district needs to revert to 100 percent distance learning or if it can safely reopen to all students.

National Education Association-New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez said she believes while most of the state’s teachers are willing to return to campus, there are plenty who will only be willing to work from home due to elevated health risks. Warniment said the Public Education Department will be flexible in allowing at-risk school staff to work remotely.

“We’re going to have waivers in place for high-risk educators who need to work from home,” Warniment said. “And we’re going to move aggressively for virtual training for educators.”

Superintendents and education leaders say while the responsibilities of schools and teachers have grown exponentially during the pandemic, funding basic infrastructure that will help schools deal with new realities has not.

Parr-Sanchez, who previously taught eighth grade in Las Cruces for 25 years, said a statewide survey of the union’s roughly 9,000 members found 50 percent of schools do not always have both running water and soap. According to a legislative analysis from 2019, 305 schools in New Mexico do not have a full-time registered nurse, and according to the National Education Association, there are 780 students for every school nurse in the state.

“Districts have been put in a no-win situation and, most importantly, so have kids,” Parr Sanchez said. “This is what always happens in New Mexico because we don’t fund our schools properly. This time is different because it’s more high stakes. It’s a life-and-death situation.”

While the federal coronavirus relief act provided funding for schools to purchase technology, personal protective equipment and other necessities for continuing education during the pandemic, the state has not allowed school districts to keep their full allotment. Parr-Sanchez said Las Cruces Public Schools received $7.4 million from the federal stimulus before the state trimmed $3 million from its budget.

García said Santa Fe Public Schools received around $2.5 million from the CARES Act but lost $1 million in state funding as a result. Kristy Janda Wagner, the district’s executive director of operations, told the school board last month the district expects to spend an additional $1.7 million on custodians in order to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for wiping down surfaces when schools reopen.

“That additional CARES Act funding was to help us cover this, and now I’m going to have $1 million less to fund these additional expense,” García said. “That sure puts us in a tight spot. We’re already experiencing other cuts. I am very concerned about where this leaves my budget.”

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(8) comments

Orlie Romero

Under no circumstances can young children be out of school anymore, it’s time for our leaders to grow up and face reality.

Children under 12 must be at school daily as it’s the most crucial learning years as well as social time.

Kids need school, sports, health and an ordinary life, stop this bull$#!/ and get moving.

Always take the parents advise over all others.

Lastly, there is no way parents can miss work to educate kids, it’s not reality.

John Martinez

This is the most disjointed least thought out plan. Connie, your kids will not be getting a better education, they will be getting crappy two day rotational education completely disrupted by temperature checks, kids with coughs and runny noses, and teacher Joey took off his mask. Toughen up isn't separate from doing the right thing. An online education for one year would provide a more consistent education and a better platform for educating students while keeping the greater community safer. Stuffing kids and adults in buildings isn't about educating kids, it's about taking kids off the parents hands for the day and socializing. If kids need socializing, which they do, there are many other ways it can be done in a safer environment intended for that purpose. Schools are not equipped to handle this, space wise or financially. I've seen your comments, you are a smart rational person don't let your ego get in the way...this is a dangerous plan and not paranoia.

Connie Lopez

I think Orlie Romero might disagree with you.

Chris Mechels

Lest we forget.... The 50% occupancy is NOT cast in stone, or handed down from God. It is a number MADE UP, but our 7th grade Governor and her ignorant staff. Like the MADE UP 25% occupancy for grocery stores; only AFTER Mayor Webber announced his numbers for Santa Fe. The Governor did the same deal for masks; for two months we must not wear masks, now we must wear masks, but not real masks.

Honestly she's just a dumb little 7th grader playing Governor. She has no credentials, and appointed a very incompetent Cabinet, so, as Obama said of Trump; "They just make stuff up!" The only bottom line under this act is that people ARE dying from Covid, many of the due to the Governor's poor handling of the epidemic. Our media, of course, will write no "real news" only "fake news" based on Thumbelina's press releases.

Normally such incompetence in the Governor's office is rather normal in NM, and to be laughed at, but expected. With Covid, its turned deadly, so we need to get some adult leadership into the picture. Michelle is just not up to the game, pretending that hankerchief's are "as good as" N-95s. She sort of bleeds stupidity.

Bill Roth

Fun fact- surrounding states the have relaxed mask regulations- Az and TX to be precise, have had a per capita rise in infections. we haven't. I wonder why? Actually its not our Governor that recommends a cloth mask, its the CDC and The WHO, unless you are in a high risk environment where a KN95 is recommended. Initially cloth masks were recommended due to shortages of both surgical masks and N 95 masks, Now both are more readily available altho most of the KN95 masks are not NIH approved, altho there is a list available that shows kn95 masks that were tested but not in a quantity that would ensure ciertifcaiton, nevertheless, they are deemed acceptable. Bear in mind, ANYTHING over your face is better than nothing, and coupled with frequent handwashing, and social distancing, its a proven (see NZ) way to mitigate and eventually eliminate C19 in a population...Grisham was following protocols as they were put forth. Actually NM was one of the first states to call for mask wearing. the state has had a fantastic epidemiologist on staff who recently did n=move on, but he was on board during the initial rollout of covid regulations. As for occupancy regulations, numbers such as these are statistically based, and try to balance both the public good, and the desire to return to some sort of normalcy. Mr Michals, no one is requiring you to go into grocery stores, there are plenty of services available for shopping. So instead of constantly trying to find ways to all out the state and local leadership- we get it, you don't like them, perhaps come up with something to do constructively with your time?

BOB SCHWARTZ

she doesn't care, she is only preaching to the bottom percentile of the state who believe her idiocracy or the transplants with large retirements who do not care. She wants people to think she cares and has ulterior motives or underground, hidden movidas that are percolating that are the real important items for her. The governorship is not a shield and allows her the power, protection, and connections for these hidden schemes. Of course one of those is to be VP and she has hidden instructions from the DNC on exactly how to conduct herself. And then Brian Egads is in the inner circle. Of course the January session, if there is not another special session in Octoberish, will seal the nail on the coffin. I am also sure, through inner communication from the mother ship, that they have been promised federal monies. I am also sure that she communicates with Bill Richardson who schools her in the art of the back door.

Connie Lopez

Toughen up. Parents who fear Covid.19, stay home and teach your kids. The rest of us can send our kiddos to school where they'll learn and become contributing society members. For all those who choose to remain paranoid, stay home, making more room and smaller classes for my kids, hence enhanced learning environment.

Connie Lopez

Just like I thought, all schools open August 2020.

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