NMPED outlines criteria for hybrid school model reentry

Wearing personal protective equipment, Santiago Castillo and Michael Pacheco clean all surfaces in a classroom in March at Enos Garcia Elementary School. Their jobs will be even more critical as schools look to reopen for students in the fall with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing. 

Some students may return to the classroom after Labor Day in a hybrid setting.

And on Thursday (Sep. 3), the New Mexico Public Education Department outlined what it will take for that to happen.

Elementary students will be the first to head back to school for in-person learning after the holiday weekend after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said during a press conference last week that they are the most in need of face-to-face instruction.

PED secretary Ryan Stewart said that elementary schools who do return to in-person learning after Labor Day must be in the green zone and have a PED approved reentry plan.

Charter schools and districts with PED approval aren't required to return to the classroom right away, however.

Other criteria used for school reopening looks at both the test positivity rate and daily cases per 100,000.

Taos County currently sits in that green zone since daily cases are under 8 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is below 5 percent.

Most of the state is in the green zone, with the exception of some counties in the southern portion of New Mexico where a recent uptick in novel coronavirus cases have popped up over the last few weeks.

As for schools and districts in Taos County, some have already been approved for reentry like Taos Municipal Schools.

However, the TMS district is continuing remote learning past the state approved reentry date, and through the end of the first quarter. That decision came after unanimous board approval during an Aug. 26 school board meeting.

Other schools and districts in Taos County that have approved reentry plans are:

– Questa Independent School District

– Red River Valley Charter School

– Vista Grande High School

– Roots and Wings Community School

– Taos Charter School

– Taos Integrated School of Arts

– Taos Academy

– Taos International School

Peñasco Independent School District wasn't on the initial list of approved districts for hybrid reentry after Labor Day, though superintendent Lisa Hamilton said that the reentry plan was approved on Sep. 3 – the same day the PED held the press conference.

Remote learning, however, has been extended in the district through Oct. 16 – which is the end of the first quarter for PISD – Hamilton said. 

On the updated list of approved districts on Friday (Sep. 4), Peñasco ISD still wasn't listed.

Stewart on Thursday reiterated the governor's stance about sending elementary students back to the classroom first.

"We know those are often the students where the remote program can be the hardest, both as they learn to read, and also when we think about the issues around attention span and being in front of a computer all day," Stewart said during the virtual press conference. "Those students in particular are the ones we wanted to prioritize getting back into the building."

And while there is risk in heading back to the classroom for students and educators, PED has a plan as to how cases of COVID-19 will be contained.

If an outbreak is localized to a classroom, then students and staff in that classroom will have to quarantine for 14-days at home and that classroom will need to be thoroughly disinfected.

If an outbreak occurs schoolwide, then the school will be shut down to be disinfected – and students will be quarantined and will move back to remote learning.

Stewart on Thursday said he wasn't sure which schools in the state plan on opening up right after Labor Day – which is the earliest date students can head back to the classroom.

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