NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Some schools across the state can bring kids back into the classroom next week. Despite 32 of the state’s 33 counties being in the red level of reopening, some elementary students will be heading back to school a week from Tuesday.

Students Pre-K through 5th grade are returning to the classroom next week at Rio Rancho Public Schools. “In-person learning is best-suited,” Melissa Perez with Rio Rancho Public Schools said. “We want our students in the classroom and miss our students very much.”

Places like Sandoval County are currently nowhere near moving into the yellow phase of reopening, but under state guidelines, more than 60 schools statewide are eligible to resume hybrid starting next week.

“When we put out the guidelines for opening, you had to get in the green initially in order to bring students back to the hybrid model so all of the schools currently had opened in hybrid were in green and opened at some point,” New Mexico Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

Stewart said all the schools that were in hybrid prior to the holidays may return to hybrid starting next week, leaving it up to those eligible districts to decide whether they will or not. Gallup-McKinley County Schools is one district that has decided to return next week despite McKinley County being arguably the state’s top hotspot with the number one infection rate per capita. “Certainly whenever you are talking about bringing people into contact, there are concerns which is why we have advanced safety protocols in place,” Stewart said.

Other places like Santa Fe Public Schools said they are also eligible to return, but the administration there says they have decided not to go hybrid next week and keeping things online, citing concerns about infection rates and new COVID variants. “Some folks are concerned about going into the hybrid setting and rightfully so, right,” Perez said.

Despite the risk, Rio Rancho schools said they are ready for students’ return. “We can send Pre-K through 5 back to the hybrid setting next week and do so safely,” Perez said.

If a school was online only prior to the holidays, they don’t have the option to go to hybrid right now. That is the case for districts like Carlsbad. They say that unless there is a major policy change by the governor, they anticipate being online for the foreseeable future. The same goes for Albuquerque Public Schools which will also remain online.

KRQE News 13 asked PED if it was fair to allow schools in counties with high case rates to reopen now when they wouldn’t in the fall. Stewart said conditions have changed, and they are working with health officials to make the best decisions.

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