NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico Public Education Department released its updated school reentry guidance Monday. According to a news release, middle school and high school students, along with their teachers, school staff, visitors and volunteers will not be required to wear masks at school this fall if they show they are fully vaccinated. However, masks will be required for all individuals in elementary schools regardless of vaccination status.
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The PED says the decision to ease the mask mandate at secondary education schools was made in collaboration with the New Mexico Department of Health and the governor’s medical advisory team. “Our priority is to keep children in school, and it’s great news that the CDC guidance shows that secondary students and staff who are vaccinated can safely attend school without masks,” said PED Secretary Ryan Stewart in a news release. “It’s one more positive change in the trajectory of this pandemic, and this guidance is possible because these vaccines are so highly effective. At the same time, we remain cognizant that the virus and its more contagious variants are still among us, and that continued efforts are needed to protect those who are not yet vaccinated.”
PED says while the state mask mandate is eased, schools may choose to have more restrict mask requirements. The updated guidelines does not require anyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, those who are not vaccinated must continue wearing masks at school and at school-sponsored events.
Masks will be required for unvaccinated individuals on school transportation. The release also states that unvaccinated students and elementary students must maintain 3 feet apart to the extent possible from other students and 6 feet from adults. They also must keep masks on except for:
- For eating and drinking during allowed times;
- During designated rest periods for very young students;
- While outdoors.
The PED also says masks are not required outdoors. The updates to the reentry plan go into effect immediately and will govern school reentry this fall.
Those who wish to go maskless at school must provide either an original or copy of a vaccination card or a printout or screenshot from NMVaxView indicating a completed course of COVID-19 vaccination at least 14 days prior. Replacement vaccination cards are available at regional public health offices. Family health providers can provide a printout from NMVaxView. Schools will develop a system to allow staff members to quickly verify those who may go maskless and those who must wear a mask. Schools also may require universal mask-wearing while in a school building, at an indoor school-sponsored event, and on school transportation.
- Unvaccinated students cannot be in a school building without a mask.
- Schools will provide masks to unvaccinated students. Students who remove face masks or refuse to wear them will be sent home. While waiting for pickup, such students will be supervised and quarantined from other students.
- Schools will individually determine student discipline for mask violations, but the toolkit says such discipline will be supportive and instructional and will not include suspension or expulsion. Schools must provide notice to families about updated discipline policies.
- The new guidelines also ease some of the reporting requirements for schools. For example, schools are no longer required to report COVID cases over weekends and holidays.
- The definition of a close contact is reduced from 6 to 3 feet if both students were correctly masked and other prevention strategies were in place; it’s still 6 feet between adults and students, and between adults.
- Vaccinated students, teachers and staff are no longer required to practice social distancing while eating. Unvaccinated students should sit on only one side of a table and maintain the prescribed social distance.
- Cohorting of students is encouraged but no longer required.
- School-related events — assemblies, dances, award ceremonies and the like — are permitted with masking and social distancing requirements for unvaccinated individuals.
- All schools must test 25% of unvaccinated staff members each week; previously, only schools in red counties had to test at that level.
- Schools must maintain a voluntary student surveillance testing program with a new weekly goal of testing 25% of unvaccinated students participating in sports and other extra-curricular activities. The previous goal was 1% of the overall student population and 10% of students participating in sports and other extracurricular activities.