RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – The Rio Rancho Public Schools school board is getting a better idea of what it would take to reopen middle and high schools, and how many families and teachers even want to go back this semester. The district has had elementary students back for hybrid learning this semester but Monday’s meeting focused on the requirements and challenges of bringing older students back.

One challenge discussed in the meeting is the difficulty of having high school students in state-mandated ‘cohorts,’ or the keeping of smaller groups of students together over the course of a school day to limit exposure and spread of the virus.

“You might be taking AP algebra. You might be taking geometry in the ninth grade. There’s no cohort there. Children in the ninth grade are going a variety of different places,” Superintendent Dr. Sue Cleveland explained. The meeting also went into the challenges presented if having teachers rotate classrooms or students and teachers staying in the same classroom.

Other challenges discussed were the smaller classroom sizes at high school buildings and the complexity of having to redo a master schedule, which typically takes months, mid-semester. The district also went over the results of a recent survey of middle and high school students’ parents. The district said 58% of these families responded.

“It’s broken down by school but really all of them are very close to 60% hybrid, 40% virtual,” Renee Saucedo, Secondary School Improvement Officer at RRPS, said. The results also show 82% of middle school students and 48% of high school students would need transportation.

However, teachers may feel differently. While the Rio Rancho School Employees’ Union President said teachers recognize the need for kids to be back in the classroom and in a perfect world, teachers would be in classrooms with kids, she said most teachers just don’t feel safe. She also said a recent survey done by the union shows 68% of teachers would feel “extremely uncomfortable” being in a classroom with safety precautions in place, but without a vaccine.

“We were supposed to get vaccinated and then it was canceled. That was a big blow. That was a really hard blow to take,” Billie Helean, RRSEU President said. The superintendent also talked about her frustration with the state’s cancellation of the vaccination clinic that would’ve vaccinated 1,800 teachers, later in the meeting. Helean also read emails from teachers, most saying they don’t want to go back without getting vaccinated first.

“This isn’t just about staff. This is about the health and safety of our students and their families. One of my students has had lingering effects from having COVID-19 last semester. Another student lost his mother to COVID-19. His mother. He is 12 years old,” one email read. There is still no set timeline or date on when educators in the state may be able to get vaccinated.

One idea being tossed around is bringing secondary students back for hybrid learning slowly, like bringing freshman or seniors before bringing all grades back. The board has the power to decide how to move forward. If it decides to move forward with a form of hybrid learning, Dr. Cleveland said it wouldn’t be possible until late February at the very latest.

There is a list of requirements the district needs to meet, including getting local fire marshals and PED to check campuses, which the Superintendent said she was told may not happen as soon as they’d like given the demand. Other challenges discussed were the shortage of substitute teachers and janitors. The school board meets again on February 8.