SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — At least two schools in New Mexico are sending students home early this week for remote learning, citing concerns over a coronavirus infection surge. Students at Santa Fe Public Schools will go remote starting Tuesday ahead of the Thanksgiving break, representing the largest voluntary closure of K-12 schools this semester.

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Los Lunas Schools, a smaller school district near Albuquerque, canceled in-person classes in favor of remote learning Monday and Tuesday ahead of the break that starts Wednesday.

“This a strategic move to decrease our active COVID positive numbers,” said Los Lunas Schools superintendent Arsenio Romero. “We are aware that this can cause undue hardship for working parents.”

New Mexico’s Public Education Department last spring ordered schools into remote learning based on their thresholds of positive COVID-19 infection tests. Schools with more than four positive tests had to switch to remote learning.

Now schools have the power to decide whether to shut their doors or stay open.

About 20 of the state’s schools have reported sending children home due to virus outbreaks each month this year that included staffing shortages because of quarantines for teachers, according to voluntary notices submitted by schools to state education authorities.

There are schools elsewhere in New Mexico that have reported more COVID-19 infection cases than the school districts in Santa Fe and Los Lunas, according to data updated Friday from the New Mexico Environment Department.

But those other districts decided to maintain in-person learning. In Albuquerque, one school reported five positive tests and in Las Cruces there are schools that have had six positive tests.

Neither district has canceled in-person learning or extended the Thanksgiving holiday.

When schools go online, parents including school staff have to scramble to find childcare.

That’s already a struggle in Santa Fe, where teachers on average pay about $1,000 in child care costs per month, according to a teacher union survey cited by the school district’s superintendent in a recent editorial.

Last year, many teachers struggled to teach online classes while trying to care for their own children at home simultaneously. Now in the fourth semester of the pandemic, some districts are starting to think about addressing the problem.

“We’re in discussion with the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department on the possibility of the district providing child care for staff,” Superintendent Hilario Chavez wrote.


Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.