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Second grader Samantha Sze, 7, raises both her hands in April to ask a question of Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart at Wood Gormley Elementary School.

The state Public Education Department on Monday released its COVID-19 safety guidelines as staff and students prepare to return to classrooms — some as early as next week.

Changes in the long-awaited guidelines include a shortening of physical distance requirements and heightened testing requirements for unvaccinated school staff.

The guidelines also ease face mask requirements for vaccinated students in middle schools and high schools. But masks will continue to be required in all elementary schools and for anyone who is unvaccinated or fails to provide proof of vaccination, the education department said in a news release.

The state is directing schools to provide masks for students who need them — and those who refuse to wear them will be quarantined from their peers and sent home from school.

Schools also will be able to create their own disciplinary measures for those who violate mask rules, but the measures cannot include suspension or expulsion.

Schools no longer will be required to report COVID-19 cases recorded on weekends and holidays, but in response to the results of surveillance testing of asymptomatic people, the state is increasing testing mandates.

“Until vaccinations are available to children of every age it will be incumbent on each of us, in school environments, to do everything we can to minimize risk — that includes face coverings,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a news release issued by the education department. “Various studies and federal data show have shown school environments are and can be safe.”

The state guidelines — which do not require vaccinations for staff or students — come more than a month after the agency told districts the information would be available and less than two weeks before Santa Fe Public Schools opens its doors.

Santa Fe Public Schools begins classes Aug. 6 and anticipates it will release its districtwide guidance “in the upcoming days.”

Last school year, 663 cases of COVID-19 were identified in schools across New Mexico through surveillance testing.

This year, the state is asking schools to maintain voluntary testing programs that hold a weekly goal of testing 25 percent of all unvaccinated students participating in after-school programs, such as sports. The previous goal, according to the state, was to test 1 percent of the overall student population and 10 percent of students participating in extracurricular activities.

All schools are now also required to test a quarter of unvaccinated staff members each week as well.

Students wearing masks may now get within 3 feet of one another, but 6 feet of distance will be required between adults and students.

The state also announced school-related events like assemblies and dances will be permitted, with masking requirements and social distancing for unvaccinated people.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez was unavailable to respond to the new guidelines Monday afternoon, but spokesman Cody Dynarski said the district would be hosting community and staff town hall meetings before the end of next week when school starts, to discuss COVID-19 requirements.

At Pojoaque Valley, Superintendent Sondra Adams said the new state guidelines contained few surprises. She did express concerns, however, about how students might be able to easily pick out who and who is not vaccinated based on who is wearing a mask.

Online learning will be required to remain available for students and staff who have a disability that might make then unable to wear a mask in school. The guidelines also say that those who won’t wear masks must either opt to learn online or to learn outdoors.

Administrators at Santa Fe Public Schools have encouraged students who want to learn online to register for its K-12 online option, Desert Sage Academy.

(10) comments

Mike Johnson

"The updated guidelines do not require anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccination or to reveal vaccination status, PED said. But people will be required to wear masks if they don't show proof they are fully vaccinated, it said."

Tom Hyland

I've searched this article for the quote you provided but it doesn't appear. Wherever you found that, the message entirely contradicts itself. Guidelines do not require anyone to reveal vaccination status, but one must wear a mask until they show proof they are fully vaccinated.

Mike Johnson


Tom Hyland

As Mark Coble asked earlier today, and his words have since been censored, why can there be no discussion that questions the physical and psychological safety of children subjected to wearing masks? Mr. Coble clearly stated that the Santa Fe New Mexican will not allow discussion of the dilemma. It is psychological torture for children to be divided 8 hours a day in classrooms where the inoculated may breathe freely but the unvaxxed must be masked. This article describes it as sinister kabuki theater. https://tinyurl.com/u65rczrv

mark Coble

Santa Fe New Mexican MUST follow style guidelines laid out by the corporate media giants. Hence this paper is NOT independent. It is very dependent in reality. This paper fears any logical questions (questions!!) about covid. This paper also censors by omission. Survival rates by age and condition, for instance. Why?

Al Kowolski

Im curious, if all students and staff are required to wear masks, and masks work, then why is there a push for for differing badge colors for non- vaccinated staff and vaccinated staff? Why not just put gold stars on their clothing…..

Amy Earle

My over riding question is why are any unvaccinated adult school employees who do not have a valid medical excuse not to be vaccinated allowed to continue employment? I also do not understand how schools are to determine who is and isn’t vaccinated at these various school events. The honor system has been a big flop in the larger society so I see no reason to believe it would be anymore successful in a school setting. Insist all adults who work for the schools in any capacity be vaccinated to continue employment. Insist on mask wearing for all school functions by everyone since there is no way to tell the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. Putting up with people who refuse vaccination in everyday life is bad enough but there should be no reason to put up with it in any school setting.

Al Kowolski

Because it is a choice. Why is this so hard for the liberal mind to understand? People like you always cry about non-conformity and claim it’s safer, but also claim masks work. Funny how that is.

Nancy Lockland

Because it's a choice. We live in a free world. Some people are smart enough not inject poison into our bodies.

Nancy Lockland

Correction- country not world.

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