Veronica García

Santa Fe Public Schools is still committed to starting its hybrid learning model next month in elementary schools, despite pushback from teachers with fears about safety and concerns about how much work it will take to make the model effective amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Veronica García told members of the public in an online town hall meeting Monday the district has every intention of bringing students back into classrooms when the second nine-week grading period begins Oct. 15 — though it plans to make accommodations for kids who wish to remain in the online-only learning model.

She acknowledged teachers had expressed anxiety about in-person instruction during a virtual meeting Monday prior to the public session. Chief among their worries is how the district will ensure the safety of teachers and their families and prevent students from spreading the novel coronavirus.

García said teachers also wanted to know whether they would have to teach both students remaining on the virtual-only model and those participating in the hybrid. She said she would start by asking teachers to “volunteer” to return to their classrooms.

Teachers have until Wednesday to inform their principals whether they will agree to return to campus, García said.

The next school board meeting is set for Oct. 1, and García said she expects a decision then on when the hybrid model will start for elementary students.

“We know that many families are experiencing hardships and are concerned about their children and want their children back at school,” García said. “We believe that there are faculty and staff that would prefer to teach and come back in person.”

But the district has so far received 304 employee requests for accommodations allowing them to continue working remotely. Among them were 168 teachers. García acknowledged if more teachers refuse to return to school, meeting the Oct. 15 target date to launch a hybrid model will be much more difficult.

“It has become evident that more and more staff are concerned about coming back,” she said. “It’s very real and we have to address it.”

Teacher Joaquin Martinez, who asked that his Santa Fe district school not be identified, said in an interview Monday night he would not volunteer to return to his classroom because he believes it is unsafe for staff and students.

He said he’s not alone.

“Based on what I’ve read and seen, over 90 percent of teachers have expressed their concerns over the safety of this program going forward,” Martinez said. “When you look at the cost-benefit analysis, the kids will be in school for two days a week.

“Teachers and families have set up these online systems, and they are just starting to take hold,” he added. “Teachers are getting used to it. Students are getting used to it. And they want to pull the rug out from under us.”

Grace Mayer, president of the National Education Association-Santa Fe, said the teachers union is working with school officials to answer some of the teachers’ questions about safety, especially those regarding sanitization protocols and mask requirements.

She pointed to a roadblock school districts face when it comes to trying to offer alternate options for students, parents and staff who don’t favor the hybrid model: mandates from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

Mayer noted one state requirement under the hybrid model is that each class roster must be split in half — regardless of the number of students — and each group must attend school for two days a week and learn remotely the remaining three days. This could add more work for teachers who agree to work in the classroom, Mayer said, because they will have to teach both in-class and remote-learning students, perhaps at the same time.

It also strains schools with a small teaching staff.

García noted that between 40 percent and 60 percent of students at each public school in Santa Fe are opting to continue learning remotely, which lessens the number of students each teacher will have in the classroom.

Some schools will be able to accommodate both teaching models without taxing teachers, she said. But others lack the staffing levels to accomplish that.

García said the district is trying to find ways to correct that situation.

“If we had a very experienced substitute who was maybe a retired teacher who was subbing that would be willing to come in long term, that could be a possibility,” she said. “But it does limit options if we don’t have the staffing.”

Martinez said he wants the public to understand that teachers aren’t reluctant to return to campus because they are comfortable teaching from home. They are worried about exposure to the virus, he said — some so fearful they are considering resigning if required to go back to their classrooms.

“Every teacher wants to be in the classroom,” Martinez said. “We just don’t want to risk our lives for it.”

(9) comments

Amy Lee

We need to stop continuing the divide between parent and teachers. The damage being done right now will take years to repair. Look at the science and the data. The risk is there but it is manageable and worth it for our society as a whole. We know many family and friends that have kids across the country that have retuned to school and it is going well. And some with higher community spread than us. With the proper safety measures in place it is possible. What I am having trouble with if teachers from other states are willing to go back why are the teachers in New Mexico so scared? Many of us are going back to work and finding ways to be safe and be successful in doing our job. We all have family at home we worry about. If we work as a community we can make this happen. It is time we learn to live with this virus as it is not going away anytime soon even with a vaccine.

Mr. John Martinez

I say keep pushing back and demand more if they want you teachers in the classroom. Teachers didn't spend all those years in school and working on certifications to be forced into harms way. I would say a starting point would be guaranteed paid contracts for the school year, guaranteed health and life insurance for the school year, and $25k hazard pay for every teacher and administrator for the school year. Putting on the teacher hero cape won't save you or your family if you contract this virus and can't work for an extended period of time or worse die from it.

Orlie Romero

Union Rep!

Orlie Romero

This isn’t that difficult. The students that are really in need of full time school are those under 10-12. I am not sure what some are seeing but no parents that work can assist kids at home, when you watch from a distance you see the teachers are stressed and the kids aren’t paying attention. How can you expect a kid in k-5th grade to pay attention to schedules, laptop functions and work independently? Cmon, this is dumb, nothing is being accomplished.

Now, if we stop paying the teachers to stay home and start paying parents than I see a fair trade off, parents are the hero’s and those sacrificing. Let’s STOP talking and start doing.

Nancy Lockland

This is a lousy statement. Learning should start at home anyway, now all of the sudden that teachers are concerned for their health and want to remain remote and can't babysit your children, you want to discredit them. Ridiculous.

Michelle Armijo

This statement is rude. I will invite you to come sit in my remote classroom ANY DAY. MY students are paying attention 24/7. I make sure of it. I work alongside their parents to ensure that they know our class rules and procedures and I am online ALL day making sure my students that need extra help are getting one on one attention. My parents text me on MY CELL phone that I pay for at ANY time during the day to get questions answered. I also troubleshoot any technology issues that come up throughout the day with parents and students both.

ALL children under 18 need to be in school full time. Yes, 10 and under need it for educational purposes but 10 and over need it for social purposes and emotional well- being.

Things ARE being accomplished because TEACHERS have spent weekends, evenings, late nights & early mornings to figure these things out. So yes, IT IS THAT DIFFICULT. How on Earth are teachers going to teach remotely and in person without the proper equipment to do so?? How on Earth are teachers going to troubleshoot technology issues when they have half their class IN class with them? How on Earth are teachers going to help kids on Chromebooks whose parents aren't home, with work and schedules etc when they have other kids in front of them who need in-person attention? How on Earth are teachers supposed to plan, create curriculum both for in person and digital, set-up digital classrooms, grade, set up in-person classrooms, have conferences with families daily and do it with pizazz so we don't come off as "stressed" to someone judging us on the other side of a monitor, all in the measly 5 hours per week we are allotted for that?

Us teachers were NOT set up to succeed and yet we are because of the work and heart that we are putting into this. I am teaching off a 7 year old computer. I asked for a larger monitor and was told "the district is not giving them out for remote teaching." I asked to use my Mac desktop from the school, that is collecting dust and was told NO. My students were told not to buy supplies this year, so I asked my friends to donate them so my students WOULD have supplies at home.

So, you see, sadly this is NOT all about "poor us and our safety" The bigger picture is this about OUR STUDENTS and the quality of THEIR education. It does not make sense for us to go hybrid WITHOUT a solid plan for reentry with success. The STUDENTS have been through enough, we can NOT stress them ANYMORE. They have a norm now and until we can get them all back in with a solid plan, we have to keep their norm.

Since this isn't that difficult for YOU, you should attend the board meetings and present your perfect plan. Until then, never judge a teacher and THEIR WORK ETHIC.

Orlie Romero

This is exactly what I’m saying, “ go to a board meeting”? I’ve been to those meetings, 25-150 people in one room. Also, what plan will suffice, you either go back to school like many others are doing or find another career, which guess what, you will be working around 100s of other people. Your trying trying to stop the unstoppable, your going to get sick eventually, no way around it, you will be fine!

Lastly, if you truly are teaching its older children who know time, schedules, read properly, know basic math, can cook, can follow long term directions and take notes, guess what that is for those older than 4th grade. Start thinking logically instead of in a bubble that only pertains to small %. This scenario isn’t even accounting for loneliness and depression, mental issues, physical activity, friends, correct instruction and why pay a teacher to stay home if the parents are doing the work and working their job from home, the parents are the ones paying not teachers.

Kathy Fish

It's unfair to even suggest that teachers return, and put themselves, their families, and their students at risk, when our nation as a whole isn't complaint with standard health orders. In Santa Fe, we're seeing large unmasked gatherings taking place and out-of-town visitors still arriving in droves; how, then, are we to expect schools to remain safe when the state, as a whole, isn't? This article, I feel, paints teachers out to be stubborn and resistant to learning, when the reality is that educators everywhere are being put in the impossible position of having to decide between returning to the classroom and putting their health - and the public's health - at risk.

Orlie Romero

Kathy, you kind of answered your own question in the statement, nation isn’t compliant, coming in droves? Exactly. The world has already shifted back, it has to, many states are back in school, work, church, protests, rallies, sports, gyms, eating out, it never really stopped for those of us that really know and who were out and about.

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