ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Ahead of a return to the classroom for most students this week, Albuquerque Public Schools is addressing how schools will operate under the latest COVID-19 guidelines. The school district hosted a news conference about its plans Monday morning, staying the district is ready to see thousands of students arrive for in-person learning.

The 2021-22 school year begins Wednesday, August 11, 2021 for all schools in the district. Along with universal mask wearing for all students, students can expect to see some changes with how schools treat positive COVID cases and other moderate adjustments to things like windows, water fountains, and meal service.

“The real purpose of this year is to maintain in-person learning as much as possible,” said Dr. Gabriella Blakey, Chief Operations Officer for APS. “We know over the course of the pandemic, it really has impacted our students and we want to maintain as much in person learning as possible.”

Some of the changes include what happens to a classroom when a student tests positive for COVID-19. Last spring, an entire class would be sent home for in-person learning for at least two weeks. Blakey says now, if students are vaccinated or wearing a mask, they are not quarantined.

“The ability to keep in-person learning continuous over having cases is really going to be much better this year,” Blakey said. “We’ll be able to keep kids in the classroom even as children get sick.”

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The district says it has also installed new windows in schools like Comanche Elementary School over the last eight months. The adjustment allows for schools to open windows that weren’t previously able to open. Along with MERV-13 air filters in most buildings, the district has also installed UV-C units to help kill airborne germs and viruses.

APS staff show an example of a UV-C light at APS’ Jefferson Elementary School

Water fountains will also be available this school year, with the district installing touchless, bottle-filling water dispensers in every school. The district also resuming regular hot meal service at schools instead of “grab-and-go” style bagged meals.

“As far as the buildings, they’re extremely safe,” Dr. Blakey said. “We’ve put in a lot of different health and safety protocols into our buildings over the past year and getting ready for this year. Very little as as the building process has been changed from the toolkit the Public Education Department released last year until this year.”

APS is requiring all students, employees, and visitors to wear masks inside school buildings this school year regardless of vaccination status. The APS Board affirmed the policy during a July board meeting. Students and staff will only be allowed to take off their masks when outside or eating.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder said the policy will help prevent anyone from being ostracized based on their vaccination status and help prevent the further spread of the virus among the unvaccinated. Children under the age of 12 are currently unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The district hasn’t instituted a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff. However, staff who are not vaccinated are being required to participate in surveillance testing. The district will not provide testing on school sites. COVID vaccinations are being made available at the district’s school based health centers.

APS is planning to continue publicly tracking COVID-19 cases. Those will be posted online weekly. Click here to view APS’ COVID-19 case tracking website.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is just getting back to in-person learning, in general,” Dr. Blakey said. “Making sure that we put in as many precautions and safety protocols are possible to keep our staff and students in a healthy environment to have in-person learning.

About 20 elementary schools are already in session as part of APS’ “Early Learning Time Program,” adding 10 extra school days to the normal school year. That program is aimed at improving academic achievement and closing learning gaps following the remote learning students dealt with during the pandemic.

APS is offering parents a school-by-school look at the level of “readiness” of each school building with several changes made at facilities addressing COVID-19. Click here to view APS’ “School Readiness” survey.