ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Public Education Department is taking a big step forward in bringing students back into the classroom this fall by releasing a 25-page plan on how schools should do it, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going to have to be fully focused on prevention and at this time prevention is going to become more important not less as we enter back into the school buildings,” Ryan Stewart, Cabinet Secretary at PED, said. “We have some baseline requirements that are based on the best available health data that’s really shown to reduce transmission rates. And it’s critical that reduce transmission rates because that’s what’s going to allow us to keep kids in the classroom safely and not see spikes in the virus.”
The document describes opening schools up in phases, starting by bringing students back in fall in a hybrid model, which is a mix of at-home and in-person learning. While it’s up to districts to decide how to they’ll be able to implement the guidelines, the state recommends an “A-B schedule.”
“What that looks like is a school is a set group of students will attend on Monday and Tuesday, the same group of students that way we can minimize transmission, then the schools will close, disinfect, clean on a Wednesday, and then another group of students will come in on a Thursday and Friday,” Gwen Perea Warniment, Deputy Secretary at PED, said.
The guidelines require students and staff to wear masks while at school unless they are eating or exercising. It also requires the number of students in the building at any time to be capped at the number that can be accommodated while adhering to six feet social distancing guidelines or at 50% classroom capacity level.
The guidelines also eliminate field trips and large gatherings in common areas like cafeterias. If serving food in a cafeteria, students must be spaced out. Parents said they are happy to hear about the safety precautions in place but question how practical they all are.
“So, as far as the PPE and whatnot, we understand that we need it but if you think about kindergartners and first and second and third graders, it’s going to be a little difficult I think to continually keep the masks on,” Jourdan Taylor, an Albuquerque Public School parent, said.
“I’m wondering how realistic it is when you have 600, 700 kids in a lunchroom, and even if you separate them out…I’m just not sure how that’s going to look,” Tiffani Lovell, a Rio Rancho Public School parent, said.
For students who take the bus, they’ll be screened before getting on. The state is recommending temperature checks for these students but is not requiring them. The state is also recommending staggered school times, which may change bus routes, to keep buses from getting crowded.
All staff will get screened, including a temperature check, before coming into work every day. If a student, staff, or school visitor does test positive for COVID-19, the school building where the person infected was will close for deep cleaning and contact tracing. Schools are advised to wait 24 hours before disinfecting the building.
APS is expected to discuss its re-entry plan Wednesday afternoon. Read the full document outlining guidelines for schools.
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