Once again, Santa Fe Public Schools and the local teachers union have updated their agreement regarding in-person instruction as the district prepares to fully reopen its campuses.
This version of the deal, reached Thursday, makes clear that all teachers who are entirely vaccinated or have refused the vaccine must return to their classrooms for the first day of the district’s full reopening, April 6. The agreement also stipulates teachers still waiting for their second shot will have until April 19 to return to campus.
Hundreds of teachers and staff who received accommodations in the fall allowing them to work remotely due to medical concerns may ask for a review.
The agreement includes a one-time $1,000 retention payment to union members by no later than April 30, pending approval by the school board at its April 1 meeting. Educational assistants will be paid $50 per day, in addition to their hourly pay, if they supervise students in a classroom alone.
The latest agreement supersedes a memorandum of understanding the district and the National Education Association-Santa Fe reached in February, which required teachers and staff to return to schools after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The update came in response to the state’s announcement in March that in-person instruction at public and charter schools should start by April 5.
That Monday is a holiday at Santa Fe Public Schools, so the full reopening was delayed by a day.
Superintendent Veronica García said she was thrilled with the agreement and feels confident the district will be more than ready for the influx of students returning to campuses around the city.
A recent parent survey suggested about 50 percent to 60 percent of students will opt for in-person instruction for the last weeks of the school year, she added.
“On the sixth, we will be open and ready for business for whomever wants to come back,” García said.
Grace Mayer, president of NEA-Santa Fe, did not return phone messages seeking comment on the deal.
In a joint statement with García, Mayer said educators are eager for in-person instruction and finally seeing their students face to face.
“As professionals, we have met the many challenges of remote learning and will continue to persevere through the new circumstances that lay ahead of us,” Mayer said.
García said the district might rely on a few substitute teachers at some schools initially because teachers who are not fully vaccinated might not report until the later date.
“Some schools might need four or five subs,” she said. “Some may not need any. They can cover [classes] with their staff.”
More than 300 teachers and staff members received accommodations to work from home because of medical conditions that put them at higher risk of a severe case of COVID-19. Under the district’s new deal with the union, they can request a review based on guidance provided by the state Public Education Department.
García declined to comment on state guidance or advice from the district’s counsel on the issue. She said Santa Fe Public Schools will review each request for a teacher or staff member to continue working remotely and make determinations on a case-by-case basis.
A letter from state Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart to public school administrators March 16 defined high-risk teachers and staff members as individuals who are 65 and older, as well as those who suffer from the following underlying medical conditions that place them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathy
- Weakened immune system from an organ transplant
A body mass index greater than 40
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
The letter also stated high-risk staff who previously were granted alternate or remote work assignments may be required to return to campus as soon as two weeks after the final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine has been made available to them. Alternate work assignments might be available, however, for those teachers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they may request leave under the Family Medical Leave Act if they are unable to perform duties due to a serious medical condition or the condition of an eligible family member. Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Gibbs Robinson said districts and charter schools may still choose to provide accommodations for high-risk employees.
García said between one-third and half of teachers and staff with accommodations have indicated they will return to campus. Some of them were swayed by receiving a vaccine.
According to data from the state Department of Health, more than 85 percent of teachers have been at least partially inoculated or are scheduled for a vaccination.
“I think there are people who got an accommodation because of age, but now that they’re vaccinated, they no longer feel they need it,” García said.