ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico schools will be allowed to reopen in less than two weeks, but the state’s largest school district said they won’t be ready. Albuquerque Public Schools Interim Superintendent Scott Elder would not provide a hard date for when students may be able to return, but he did say it would not be by February 8. “I know you guys are getting emails from parents too, and they are wondering what we have been doing,” Elder said. “We have been doing a lot of research.”
Tuesday, the governor announced that all school districts in New Mexico can start letting K-12 students back in-person beginning February 8, but Elder said they can’t pull that off. Elder stressed APS has been working for months on re-entry plans, but the governor’s announcement came as a surprise. “It was a little frustrating when we gave guidance saying to give us lead time to take care of things and then boom, it is a week and a half,” Elder said. “The governor changed the conditions dramatically yesterday.”
Elder said while all 142 campuses have been inspected by APS and are ready to go, none of them have been visited by the fire marshal which is part of the requirement to reopen. Elder said the new guidelines require districts to give the New Mexico Public Education Department a two-week letter of intent to schedule the school inspection which he said makes the February 8 reopening date unrealistic. “They need a two-week window,” Elder said. “For us to hit February 8, we would have had to contact PED on Monday which was a day before the announcement,” Elder said.
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The president of the Albuquerque teachers union, Ellen Bernstein, added that many teachers are anxious to get vaccinated before they return, plus the district needs to figure out factors like busing and meals for kids. “We need to make sure we know which families want to go back in person and which ones need to stay remote,” Albuquerque Teachers Federation Ellen Bernstein explained. “There’s so much to do that I think it will take a while longer.”
Bernstein said teachers are anxious to get vaccinated before returning. Elder said APS is still not happy after the New Mexico Department of Health last week told APS they could not vaccinate teachers after APS had planned to vaccinate a thousand employees this past weekend. Elder said he has been assured all school nurses and employees over 75 will be vaccinated by February 8. “I will continue to advocate strongly for educators, custodians, principals… They all need the vaccine,” Elder said.
Elder said the school board will vote on a revised plan and reentry date at their meeting on February 3. APS said the reopening plan aligns with the one they released in December of 2020. That plan allows kids to return to the classroom in small groups starting at the elementary level. They hope to speed up the rates letting back middle and high school students.
KRQE News 13 asked all seven APS board members how they plan to vote. Board President Dr. David Peercy copied us on an email saying board members should not answer our question, and that there would be further discussion at the next board meeting. Board Member Peggy Muller-Aragon did respond saying she’ll vote “yes.”
Parents say that all the back and forth has been difficult. “I think it is just a moving target,” APS parent Kelly Harrell said. “I don’t really expect a whole lot at this point. I think the only way we can stay sane ourselves is to try to stay as flexible as possible and pivot when we need to.”