NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – It’s a question parents and students across the state are wondering about – what will school look like come fall? Now a state task force is working to try and figure out those answers.

With the school year about two-and-a-half months away, the New Mexico School Reentry Task Force has a lot to do, and not much time to do it. Democratic Senator Bill Soules of Las Cruces, a member of the task force, described their task as ‘daunting.’

“Every time a topic would be brought up, suddenly there was a broad expansion of, ‘Oh my gosh, how do we handle this? What are we gonna do about that? How do we work with teachers that have underlying health conditions that need to be protected when we already have a shortage of teachers?” Sen. Soules said.

Soules is one of 30 members of the New Mexico School Reentry Task Force set up by the Public Education Department and governor’s office. After their first two-hour-long zoom meeting, Sen. Soules said there are way more questions than answers about what schools could look like in the fall.

“Schools in New Mexico are incredibly different from very urban areas of Las Cruces, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, to incredibly rural areas, and the state response in education has to look different in those places,” Sen. Soules explained.

The Center for Disease Control recently issued guidelines for schools, outlining options for low-risk virtual learning, a ‘more-risk’ hybrid of alternating school days with social distancing, and high-risk full class instruction. Sen. Soules said they’re still working through the logistics of all the options before the state issues its own guidelines for schools.

“Certainly those are gonna be some of the big pieces also is – how do you manage to give grades when some of the students may be at home being isolated, quarantined when others are in school?” Sen. Soules said. The pandemic has also highlighted a lot of inequities across the state, he explained, with some communities having little or no access to reliable internet.

“One of our tasks out of this first meeting was – go out and talk to your constituents and get their input,” Sen. Soules said. “We need to know what people see it being and want it to be while understanding that the science and the data behind the virus is going to dictate a lot of it.”

Rio Rancho Public Schools sent a three-question poll to parents asking what they’d like to see in the fall. Preliminary results of that poll show 45% of parents want traditional classrooms with social distance requirements, 41% said they’d like a combination of online and in-person learning, and 24% said they’d feel more comfortable with all online instruction.

The reentry task force will meet every Wednesday for the next several weeks. The PED is asking parents across the state to fill out a survey.

Parents can answer both open and close-ended questions about their child’s level of engagement in school, the family’s level of satisfaction with their school’s expectations and supports, their school’s ability to meet the child’s individual needs, and their communication preferences.

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