The state Public Education Department has released initial plans on how districts should go about opening schools during a pandemic.

With a focus on the health and welfare of school staff and students, there’s no question that school come August will be very different. The state is recommending a hybrid model — both online and in-person learning — but leaving local districts room to decide what will work for them.

And that’s important.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Veronica García will discuss options for Santa Fe Public Schools with the Board of Education.

Anyone concerned about what is going to happen on the first day of school should tune in — it will be streamed live and recorded on the district’s YouTube channel. At sfps.info, the meeting agenda is expected be posted no later than Friday afternoon. People who want to share their thoughts about what the district should be doing can chime in. A questionnaire will be offered as well. What works in Santa Fe might not be what works in Deming or Mora, so community members need to speak up.

The Public Education Department guidelines were put together with a task force, using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health guidelines, as well as input from community surveys posted online.

Important goals are advancing the learning of students across New Mexico, while at the same time keeping students and staff safe at school. The COVID-19 pandemic, as we know too well, is dangerous and does not seem to be going away.

Education Secretary Ryan Stewart sums it up in the introduction, writing: “As we move toward welcoming our students back to our campuses, it is critical that all educators, family members, and community members recognize that the need for prudent and proactive measures to prevent the spread of the virus will become more important — not less — in order to keep our students and communities healthy and safe.”

Recommendations for the hybrid opening include keeping schools at 50 percent of capacity to allow social distancing, which would mean students learn at home some days and in a traditional classroom other days. One suggested schedule would be classes Monday and Tuesday for half the students, a break Wednesday to clean, and additional classes Thursday and Friday for the remaining students.

A hybrid model likely will be a burden to families whose parents can’t work at home. It’s a challenge Santa Fe Public Schools will have to tackle as it receives input from parents. One possibility, if enough families want full-time school at home, would be to send children to school four days a week on certain campuses. A lot of what happens depends on parents.

Other guidelines include requiring the wearing of face coverings in most situations and for most people, avoiding large groups, screening staff daily and increased cleaning and sanitizing. Schools will be required to set up programs for surveillance testing and rapid response testing for staff members, as well as have plans for contact tracing.

A lot of thought has gone into planning the reopening of schools — with different recommendations for completely remote learning, hybrid learning and a return to traditional in-person learning. At this point, we encourage everyone to start by reading the various reentry documents. They can be found on the Public Education Department website, webnew.ped.state.nm.us/. Just scroll down the front of the page and click the button to go to the guidelines and the frequently asked questions links.

After you read, discuss the recommendations. Start poking holes in the suggestions. Anticipate concerns. Acknowledge that no district can provide concierge education for 13,000 students. Think about what will work best for learning and health.

Then, tune in to the Tuesday school board meeting. It’s time for the community to work with district and school leaders to find the way forward so that children receive the best education possible during these hard times.

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Dr. Michael Johnson

It is obvious they are struggling mightily to open schools safely in the middle of a pandemic, and just as obvious there is no way to open them safely. Leave them closed.

Welcome to the discussion.

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