Superintendent Veronica García said school officials in Santa Fe have been discussing ways to accommodate more kids while ensuring they can practice social distancing when the district fully reopens campuses early next month.
Some options: removing furniture and moving some classes and meal times outside.
The talks came a day after the state’s announcement Monday it will offer at least the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to all public school teachers in the next few weeks and expects them to be back in classrooms April 5.
That’s a holiday for staff and students at Santa Fe Public Schools, so campuses in the city would open for full-time classroom instruction a day later. It will be the first time students can attend classes in person five days a week since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.
However, students also will have the option of learning remotely.
The district will conduct another round of surveys to find out how many students would return to fully reopened campuses. Previously, only about a third of students and their families said they wanted a return to the classroom.
“We’ve done so much planning for this day to finally come over the past year that I do feel like we are well prepared,” García said. “Again, it all depends how many students want to come back.”
Several local school leaders say they are eager for the full reopening.
“All the details to try to get back up and running safely are daunting, but this is a problem I am delighted to solve,” said Chris Eide, head administrator at Turquoise Trail Charter School, which serves 700 elementary and middle school students.
“To try to do it in three weeks is ambitious, to say the least,” Eide added.
Judy Robinson, a spokeswoman at the Public Education Department, said the agency expects schools to offer five-day instruction on campus to all students who choose that model.
But, she added, “It’s not a mandate.
“We’ve communicated to districts and charter schools if they’re facing challenges, we’re going to help them get across the line,” Robinson said. “They could be back today if they’re ready, but the expectation is by April 5 they have everything in place.”
Chris Gutierrez, superintendent of West Las Vegas Schools — which has been operating on a completely remote model except for small groups of at-risk and special-education students — said he plans to fully reopen schools sometime in April. But, he said, social distancing seems impossible.
“The way I look at it is, if you can’t, you can’t,” Gutierrez said. “What district across the state can say they have enough space to put 6 feet across for every student?”
The Public Education Department’s guidelines say social distancing should be practiced “to the greatest extent possible.”
Santa Fe Public Schools announced Tuesday it aims to have a plan by March 22 for what a full reopening will look like. The district 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 or have declined to be vaccinated. Previously, teachers and staff were able to opt out of working in classrooms.
Under the agreement, the district said, no employee would be required to get a vaccination, but only teachers and staff members with an accommodation to work from home will not be required to return to in-person teaching during the 2020-21 school year. García said about 300 people have an accommodation. It’s not yet clear whether the district will continue to offer the accommodations.
At Capital High and Santa Fe High, the hybrid model — in which rotating groups of students attend in person two days a week and learn from home the other three days — essentially has been virtual learning on campus. Students seated at socially distanced workstations in large communal spaces have used their laptops to log into most lessons remotely. Some are able to receive face-to-face instruction for a class if a teacher is working on campus.
About 200 per day have been learning this way at Capital High.
“We don’t anticipate having all 1,450 students back this year, but it will be more than 200,” Principal Jaime Holladay said. “I don’t anticipate full classrooms, but we’re hopeful as more teachers come back, their students will follow.”
Holladay welcomes the upcoming change. “Returning is really all about school culture,” she said. “Our freshmen haven’t even met their teachers or our leadership. Seniors are about to graduate together. And our staff — all our favorite part of the day is to see students.”