Morgan Timms/Taos News

'I am proud of the work that we have done together this year,' Peñasco Independent Schools Superintendent Lisa Hamilton said in March while addressing the board and community members during public comment. 'I would like to continue and if not, I am honored and humbled by this experience.'

The Peñasco Independent School District board drew up plans Tuesday (March 16) to transition to synchronous learning -- full-time in-class learning and simultaneous remote learning -- as early as April 5, in order to comply with new state mandates.

The New Mexico Public Education Department announced Monday (March 8) the state would be moving teachers and staff to the front of the vaccination line in order to get schools safely opened as quickly as possible.

"This means that any student that wants to return to in-person [learning] may do so. We are no longer required to have that hybrid cohort and cap of 50 percent or less per class," said Lisa Hamilton, superintendent of the Peñasco Independent School District.

The NMPED plan, called 'Ring the Bell,' was introduced after the Biden Administration announced Tuesday (March 2) that it would assist in getting U.S. schools reopened.

"Remote learning will be an option, and that remote-learning model is not going to change, it will be simultaneous or synchronous. And it's going to be offered until the end of the school [year]," said Hamilton.

In addition to schools opening in early April, NMAA-sponsored sports, and other activities including band, choir and drama, could resume. The issue of allowing spectators at sporting events and performances is still an ongoing discussion.

The new state mandates are an evolution of the already existing hybrid-learning model that PISD has been operating under. The PISD middle and high school returned to hybrid learning on March 1, and the elementary school returned on March 15.

Many of the hybrid-learning requirements for in-person learning remain -- social distancing, masks and PPE. Additionally, wellness check-ins before boarding a school bus and upon arrival at school would still be required.

"Surveillance testing is still a requirement. It's a condition of employment," said Hamilton. "Fully vaccinated staff do not need to participate, provided it's been no more than three months since they got their full vaccination status."

Teachers and staff are expected to return to campus, but can request to work remotely through the Americans with Disabilities Act, and if they are not eligible, through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"It has been a very difficult year for all of us, with respect to all the sudden changes, starting back over a year ago, where we were informed of the pandemic and the impact that it would have," said Hamilton.

"We were told 'Everything's going to be fine, schools aren't going to be affected,' to 'You're not coming back,' to 'You're not coming back at all for the rest of the year.' And then this year with all of the changes.

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