ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s largest school district is now officially asking the state to separate athletics and other extracurricular activities from hybrid learning — but some say it’s too little, too late. On Monday, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education met for a special meeting.

School board members say they see no reason why these activities should be connected to being in a hybrid model, which is a current requirement from the Public Education Department. They think students involved in these activities will do better in school if they still get to do what they love.

“I think the point is to get our players playing and I think if in fact, they will play, they’ll be better off and go to school, and do a better job in school and that’s what we really want,” said Dr. David Peercy, President of the APS Board of Education. “Give our athletes a chance to play, if they can play, and I know coaches are going to do a good job trying to keep these athletes safe. They’re going to do a good job of trying to get them to go to school and do the work.”

Just this weekend, APS athletes, parents, and coaches protested the school board’s decision to remain online through the rest of the school year. That decision kept them and anyone else taking part in NMAA activities from participating.

That includes activities like band, choir, chess, DECA, drama, and others. Monday morning, the board approved a letter to the governor asking that these two entities be separated, saying it can be done safely. However, some local leaders feel APS dropped the ball, in the first place, for making the decision to remain online, knowing there was no policy in place to still allow sports if they weren’t hybrid.

“There are a lot of legislators up in Santa Fe right now, who are frustrated with the governor and also the school boards. We just want them to be able to let the kids play and so there are a lot of us who are getting together and having this conversation about what we can do,” said Sen. Mark Moores, a Republican state senator representing District 21-Bernalillo. “The Albuquerque Public School board fumbled the ball in this very poor decision. It’s time to pick that ball back up and actually move forward so these kids can play.”

The APS school board says this is not just for them but for all districts in New Mexico, many of which are also remaining remote or are introducing a limited hybrid model. We reached out to the PED to see just how many people are requesting the separation of hybrid and sports. They say since late last month, they’ve received around 320 emails urging the PED to sever the tie between hybrid learning and athletics and activities.

The special board meeting also included asking the Department of Health to prioritize school employees for vaccines and start getting them vaccinated if there are extra doses available at the end of a day at any clinic. They would like teachers to be on a special list that is contacted in these cases. The board also approved a multi-million dollar contract to get more than 8,000 UVC air purifying units into classrooms and offices in the next couple of months.

PED issued the following statement in response to the push to get the state to drop the requirement that hybrid learning must take place before school sports happen:

Throughout the pandemic, Public Education Department decisions have been guided by three principles: To protect the health and safety of our students, educators and communities; to maximize the opportunities for in-person learning; and to make decisions based on science and data. We followed that course in the fall during the pandemic’s rise; and we continue on that course even as the pandemic ebbs, allowing us at last to expand in-person learning. Our latest guidance remains true to these principles by creating a simple order of operations: First, districts and schools must show they can safely reopen for in-person learning in the hybrid mode, with a clear and uniform definition of what that constitutes; second, we require a two-week pause to make sure the virus didn’t get a foothold; and third, we expand NMAA-sponsored extracurricular activities. We know this is a difficult decision with many local complexities, but we remain optimistic that both in-person learning and in-person extra-curricular activities will continue to expand throughout the spring by following this safe, prudent approach.

PED Secretary Ryan Stewart