Young children could be headed back to the classroom under a hybrid model of in-person and online classes if schools and counties meet strict safety criteria, state officials said during a news conference Thursday.

Students in kindergarten through fifth grade would be allowed to return to campus after Labor Day under plans that would have to be approved by the state Public Education Department. For that to happen, counties must demonstrate low rates of COVID-19 spread, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and health officials said.

So far, one-third of charter schools in the state and nearly half of public school districts have had plans approved, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García did not return a phone call Wednesday night, but the district’s plan is to continue the first nine weeks of the semester with online-only classes, said Deborah Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Public Education Department.

The largest school district in the state, Albuquerque Public Schools, has decided to postpone any in-person learning until after the fall semester. Twenty-four school districts have elected to postpone any in-person learning for the first semester or a portion of it.

Stewart said the department is focused on maximizing “the amount of in-person learning we can do,” while ensuring “we have strong plans in place” that cut down on the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Lujan Grisham said the decision to exclude middle school and high school students from returning to classrooms hinged on the particular challenges of motivating young children to stay focused and engaged in classes that are online only.

“The magic about elementary-age kids and those schools is those are the kids that gain the most by being in person,” Lujan Grisham said.

But online classes still will be a key component, and public health officials do not want to treat the coming school year “as a lost year,” Stewart added. “We know that we have to be attending to the academic and social needs of the kids” despite the pandemic.

Anticipating that many schools might opt for a return to campus as teachers struggle to keep kids engaged online and as many families grapple with full-time child care while working, the Public Education Department has been busy reviewing reentry proposals from districts across the state.

The agency is providing special training for schools to deal with any COVID-19 outbreaks while minimizing impact to instruction. School districts have purchased more than 3.5 million masks and the state will issue another 700,000 in the next two weeks.

If cases are found within a classroom, state officials plan to quarantine that classroom for 14 days and switch back to remote learning in the meantime. Other classrooms would remain open in that scenario unless a student tested positive, Stewart said.

Officials would use the same procedure across several classrooms or wings of schools while keeping the rest of the school open if spread of the virus was isolated to particular areas. Stewart said the plan is to make closing the entire school a last resort so students “aren’t being yo-yoed back and forth.”

The shift follows months of online-only classes in K-12 schools across the state after public health officials attempted to contain the spread of the virus in the spring.

New Mexico is softening other restrictions, too. Lujan Grisham’s office announced Wednesday that indoor dining can resume at a limited capacity of 25 percent under a revised public health order that takes effect Saturday. Religious institutions also will be allowed to hold services at 40 percent capacity, an increase from 25 percent.

The eased restrictions will remain in effect at least through mid-September and come after the governor clamped down with stricter health orders following surging COVID-19 numbers in June and July as the state began allowing some business to reopen.

The state is meeting all but one of the criteria officials have laid out for considering softening public health orders. Most counties also are meeting criteria to allow hybrid models of in-person and online learning for K-5 students, state officials said Thursday.

Still, public health experts expect a potential resurgence of the virus in the winter based on what is known about flu modeling and other viruses, Human Services Secretary David Scrase said.

Scrase said influenza and other viruses — such as the common cold — peak in January and February. More people are indoors during the winter and that can lead to increased close contact, which can lead to viral spread. Concurrently, lower temperatures can compromise people’s immune systems.

“A logical conclusion [is] that this is going to be a rougher time in the winter,” Scrase said.

(28) comments

Peter Romero

MLG'S science with no data to show the sheep. Her political science is decimating the little economy we had. Last in everything good, what a sad situation we have voted ourselves into.

Orlie Romero

People, state lines are imaginary, do you really believe when you step over an imaginary boundary you are doing something wrong?

What is going on with peoples minds? Now, remove your mask of disgrace and live on, for Gods sake, take off the ridiculous mask when outdoors.

Tom Hyland

You know that old analogy of the slowly boiled frog? Always remember government is CONTROL by constant threat of force. First of all, it's necessary to strike fear into the vast population that there's a deadly virus that's going to kill us all, then government slowly boils the frog.... that being... all of us. But you gotta do it slowly. Do you enjoy a gun aimed at your head? Probably not. But tell everybody "It's good for you" and you'll get used to it. Children are especially pliable and can be formed into whatever you want. Below Orley has written that the children are most vulnerable. Watch this video and I hope you see what I'm concerned about.

Lou Torres

To Tom Hyland: I seriously believe it is you that must stop chasing after the QAnon theories! Regarding covid, you are discounting the numerous top experts AROUND THE WORLD that continue to warn about this deadly disease just like you discount the thousands of deaths world wide. Like traitor trump you do not believe in science and believe your "gut feeling" that you are smarter than the experts despite all the scientific evidence!! And furthermore Tom, to believe that covid is a hoax, a world wide boogieman coming to get you, all coordinated across the world is ludicrous. Regarding a potential vaccine, no intelligent person will take the vaccine that is in anyway tainted with trump stench!!!

Tom Hyland

Lou... do yourself a favor and stop thinking about Trump. Next... I am not denying there is a deadly virus all over the world, and if you are susceptible for several reasons it could take you out. The virus is not a hoax. What happened in Sweden, South Dakota and several other states regarding their refusal to shut down was for real. They experienced numbers no different than the numbers of those who did shut down. This isn't Qanon rumors I am referring to. What IS COORDINATED is the take down of the economic structure of this world. Have you noticed everybody going out of business? Schools shut down? Nobody taking a plane ride? Homelessness and suicides on the ride? There has been a concerted effort for many years that this will be a cashless society, everything digital, every transaction accounted for and reported. First it is necessary to reduce most of the globe into poverty and despair. All of that is taking place. As for the vaccine... again... what is this Trump thing you are talking about? You are not going to know what is in the vaccine. It will be your guess as well as mine. All of the manufacturers have been left off the hook for liability. You will take it at your own risk, and possibly by force. Read this... and don't start crying it's an article on just reporting the facts.

Lou Torres

To Tom Hyland : So Tom, how many more covid deaths in the entire world do you need to believe in science, to belieave covid is not what ignoramus trump says it is?

Tom Hyland

Trump has nothing to do with my understanding, nor does he have any effect on science or reality. You may be suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome but it is a self-induced psychosis and not contagious. The covid numbers world wide have amounted to a slightly above average flu. There have been far worse flues that came and went without any mention whatsoever. The flu of winter 1957-1958 was double of what this thing is. There was a flu in 1969 that was far worse than this. Sweden never shut down, never closed restaurants, schools, businesses and churches. The covid swept through Sweden, which acquired herd immunity, and it passed on and away. People who are really old or sick or challenged by various impairments usually die. Nothing new to see there. South Dakota never shut down and the numbers of infected, recovered and deaths are at the average level of every other state that DID shut down. The shut down was unnecessary, the masks DO NOT protect you from viral pathogens, and this "pandemic" has nothing to do with germs. It's a coverup for the disassembling of the world economic base which requires a world-wide power play to get people to obey. You have an immune system whether you believe it or not. The vaccines are being developed by several companies that have been lawfully waived of all liability. Take this vaccine at your own risk. You have no legal recourse if you are harmed. My advice, do not take the vaccine AND quit watching TV, the news especially... brought to you by Big Pharma that insists you are weak and need a vaccine.

Orlie Romero

I like Tom, common sense logical thinking person, can’t say the same for some others.

Think for yourself, I have had 3 people I know have Covid in 8 months, not one had any significant issues. I have never worn a mask, those who fear getting sick or are sick wear one. Common sense and responsible.

Mike Johnson


Donato Velasco

time for a change in schooling kids, parents take the substitute teacher training , then start home schooling your kids and th estate will compensate you for you time teaching. sounds like a win win for every one

Orlie Romero

How can a kid staying at home be healthy, not only physically but mentally. You either don’t have kids or your kids aren’t normal.

Maxwell Vertical

I suffered through an hour and a half of repetitive babbling about testing, gating criteria (which are all green except one), being lectured on hygiene, but not once did she mention the impact of her orders on unemployment, struggling small businesses, or the devestated hospitality industry. No empathy, nothing. I don't think she cares.

Lou Torres

To Governor Lujan Grisham : Openly commit to accepting full responsibility when covid-19 cases occur due to your decision to open any of New Mexico's schools and business establishments prior to a scientifically proven vaccine, effective testing and contact tracing are in place and also mandate that parents and teachers have the full right to file law suits against the school districts and state if they or their loved ones are infected with covid-19 to include compensating legal fees, related medical fees and funeral costs plus life long compensation for the irreparable damage caused by your decision to open the schools and establishments!!!!!

Amanda Chavez

I personally think they should continue with all remote for the rest of fall- summer to see how things go. N start ticketing or dealing ppl coming into state with no mask. We locals get told to wear them- but tourist downtown dont? Double standard.

Orlie Romero

Amanda, leave the city and look around, Santa Fe is one of the few who do as they are told. Go to Colorado, masks are requested but not mandated and they are far more populated than NM, figure it out please.

Tom Hyland

The Roswell City Council voted 6-4 to ignore the governor's orders. This was over a month ago. Nothing abnormal is happening in Roswell. They've experienced the same average nation-wide numbers of flu and fatalities. Don't count the excessive poor health of Native reservations or the killing spree governors Cuomo and Newsom went on shoving the infected into nursing homes. Everything is okay in Roswell. In that town if you want to wear a mask then wear one. Have you heard of staggering death tolls mounting in Roswell? I didn't think so.

Maxwell Vertical

What about the 14 day quarantine for interstate travel? Why no reporting on this?

Nancy Lockland

Who seriously has quarantined when they travel? NO ONE!!!!

Alan Lucero

Yes, actually. This is not pretending to be a statistic, just one incidence. When my son and his young family returned to Albuquerque in June upon graduating, they self-quarantined for two weeks. It was killing me not to hold my newest granddaughter living just an hour away, but all of us did the responsible thing. Agreed that many are living irresponsibly, but not everyone.

Lou Torres

Particularly, opening schools is extremely irresponsible on the part of Governor Lujan Grisham!!! She has the power to mandate wearing masks by ALL and keeping New Mexico businesses and places where people can congregate closed until a scientifically approved vaccine is readily available to all! To not make the logical mandates is not only irresponsible but blood on her hands waiting to happen...

Maxwell Vertical

Why quarantine? Just get tested as soon as you renter the state. You get the results in 48 hours. 14 days is nonsense.

Tom Hyland

Alan, to me you sound like a Penitente, from that mystical group that whips themselves and virtue-signals their suffering in the quest for purity. I think your mask is on too tight. The covid hysteria is emotion based, not fact based. Instead of cold, hard facts backing up the science we’re told to shut up and accept the “consensus." This informative article tells of times when proven science was entirely dismissed because multitudes of people followed their feelings instead of reality.

Mike Peters

I personally know two family groups who self-quarantined after traveling out of state, and several others who changed their travel plans to avoid out of state travel so they wouldn’t need to quarantine. I understand your point, but perhaps the hyperbole is misplaced.

Maxwell Vertical

It’s ridiculous. The day after you renter the state get tested and in 48 hours you know the results. There are lots of places to get tested. Why 14 days? Who can take off work for 14 days for this nonsense?

Tom Hyland

The 14 day quarantine order was so ridiculous, so impossible to consider with no way to enforce, that it's an embarrassment that Michelle and her posse would rather forget. It was suicide for a hotel. If obeyed to its impossible conclusion the hotel manager should call the police, notify them you just checked in, then lock you in under threat of arrest if you attempted to escape. Who thought up such insanity? Probably Bill Gates. Just want to say the Santa Fe New Mexican disappeared the article about Michelle allowing the opening of restaurants and churches, to 40% capacity, because the comments section provided too many opinions. Reading the thoughts of people who revel in their imprisonment, and people who are repulsed by the gestapo-like tactics of elected officials was too much information for the newspaper to allow.

Maxwell Vertical

Enacting an order that can't and won't be enforced just compromises her authority going forward. Not smart.

Orlie Romero

Pay attention, CDC dropped the quarantine rule this week.

Maxwell Vertical

Governor has to follow.

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