When New Mexico School for the Arts’ top administrator, Eric Crites, saw student absences rise to 90 on Thursday from 42 two days earlier, he and other officials decided to cancel classes Friday.
They feared the coronavirus’s omicron variant was affecting their students. Administrators put the school on “pause” to evaluate the virus’s transmission, Crites said.
“We’re not intending to keep the school closed. We’re coming back Monday,” he said. “We’re ready to go remote if we have to, but we’re not on the verge of going remote unless we suddenly start seeing a lot of in-school transmission.”
Monte del Sol Charter School, which saw a new high of 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus this week and absences of one-third of its more than 300 students Thursday, also shut down Friday and is considering remote learning.
Tierra Encantada Charter School is going remote from Monday until at least Jan. 21.
As New Mexico logged its highest ever one-day count of new coronavirus cases — 4,246 on Friday, with a record 393 in Santa Fe County, according to the state Department of Health — local school officials are wary. Following what appeared to be a downward trend of the virus’ monthslong wave of delta variant cases, the more highly contagious omicron variant has swept into the state, creating a massive post-holiday spike.
School kids — many of whom remain unvaccinated — are not immune.
Children younger than 5 are still unable to receive vaccinations, putting them at high risk as well.
Katherine Freeman, president of the nonprofit Growing Up New Mexico, confirmed Friday the Early Learning Center at Kaune would close its campus and offer remote learning options for its 100 3- and 4-year-olds after a case emerged on campus.
Freeman noted the campus has a vaccine requirement for all staff members.
Santa Fe Public Schools remained open Friday. Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez said earlier this week the district hopes to continue operating in person but is keeping a watch on COVID-19 numbers.
According to the district’s online COVID-19 dashboard, 32 staff and students who have tested positive for the virus were on campus while contagious this week after classes resumed following the winter break.
The overall number of infected students, teachers and staff likely is much higher, but the district does not report cases among those who did not pose a risk of exposure to others at their school.
None of the cases, according to the district, were contracted on campus.
More than half of the cases were among staff members, including four at Santa Fe High School and three at E.J. Martinez Elementary School.
Earlier this week, the state Public Education Department said it planned to release updated COVID-19 recommendations for public schools. But a spokeswoman said Friday the new plan had not yet been issued to districts.
Asked about absentee rates this week at Santa Fe Public Schools, district officials said they were unable to compile the numbers Friday.
Some parents indicated they kept their children home from school at least a couple of days this week to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
Jhenna Hernandez, a mother of three whose kids attend the district’s Nina Otero Community School and Capital High School and the state-chartered Turquoise Trail Charter School, said she kept her kids home for two extra days after the winter break.
Like Santa Fe Public Schools, Turquoise Trail remained operating in person Friday and hopes to avoid going remote, Head Administrator Christopher Eide said.
“I was scared of them getting sick at school this week,” Hernandez wrote in an online message Friday. “My biggest reason to do so is my oldest daughter who attends Capital high School and has asthma. I don’t want to cause her further complications.”
Another parent said their child came home from school with a cough Tuesday and has stayed home since then.
Single mother Sharon Henderson, whose third grade daughter attends Carlos Gilbert Elementary School, said she was pleased with how the school has handled COVID-19 cases and contact-tracing efforts.
But Henderson works in the service industry and said she is worried about what would happen if schools were to go remote again.
“I’m very worried about what will happen to my income, and it has been a problem in the past,” she said. “But I can’t let those things overwhelm me.”