NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Unvaccinated students and staff will have to wear masks when New Mexico’s public schools start back up next month. The state released its back-to-school guidelines on Monday.

This won’t be an honor system. Students and staff will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated if they want to ditch their masks. According to the new guidelines from the state’s Public Education Department, students and staff at middle schools and high schools with proof of vaccination will not be required to wear a mask. “It sends a good message to get vaccinated and do your part to stop the spread of COVID-19 to the greatest extent possible,” said Las Cruces Public Schools spokesperson, Kelly Jameson.

Elementary students, staff, and faculty will have to mask up – period. The PED says they are requiring it for the unvaccinated out of an abundance of caution. “We’re seeing it both nationally and locally that the Delta variant and the COVID-19 virus are continuing to spread. We’re seeing some increases so we have to stay vigilant in our fight against the virus,” said PED Secretary Dr. Ryan Stewart.

Beyond proof of vaccine, it will be up to each district to figure out how they will identify vaccinated people once they’re on campus. “There are a few different options for how a student or family could provide proof of vaccination or staff member and they include showing your vaccination card [or] you can log into the NM Vax View website and print off a screenshot from there,” said Secretary Stewart.

For example, school IDs for the vaccinated population could be a different color. For smaller schools, the state recommends keeping a list of vaccinated people at the front office.

Districts will have to come up with punishments for students who break the rules, but they are not allowed to suspend or expel students for violating mask requirements. “Of course, all of us want to get back to normal right? We’re just not sure what that new normal is going to be and this tool kit will help us get there,” said Melissa Perez, communications director for Rio Rancho Public Schools.

The PED tells us unvaccinated students and spectators will also be required to wear masks during indoor sports, but what isn’t clear is how they will enforce masks with unvaccinated spectators. They say bandanas and face shields are not substitutes for face masks. They also say districts should limit field trips to essential purposes. “The hard work now is to dissect that toolkit and determine what local level decisions we can make,” said Jameson.

Everyone on an elementary school campus must wear a mask. Pfizer and Moderna both have studies going for five to 11-year-olds. They’re hoping to have those vaccines ready to go by January or February.