Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart provided an update Thursday as the agency works alongside school districts and charter schools statewide to ensure comprehensive COVID-19 safety and response protocols are established before any district or charter can be approved to begin limited in-person learning for K-5 age groups after Labor Day.
The Public Education Department has set requirements for re-entry to a “hybrid” model of in-person and remote learning – meaning rotating cohorts of students could potentially attend in-person classes in small groups after Labor Day upon approval from the PED. Those requirements include that the state meet its gating criteria; that the school’s county meet gating criteria for the rate of new daily COVID-19 cases and test positivity; and that the Public Education Department approve the district or charter school’s individual re-entry plan, which must include COVID-Safe Practices for students and educators as well as provisions of personal protective equipment, cleaning procedures and rapid response procedures in the event of a positive COVID-19 case.
The Public Education Department has been receiving and reviewing re-entry proposals from districts across the state in anticipation of a possible shift to permissible limited in-person learning after Labor Day. At least 24 school districts and charter schools statewide, including Albuquerque Public Schools, have notified the Public Education Department that they plan to continue in an exclusively remote learning environment for at least the near-term future.
In the interim before Labor Day, in addition to outreach to local leaders and superintendents, the Public Education Department will continue to review re-entry proposals before formally approving districts seeking to begin classes for the K-5 age groups in a hybrid model (middle school and high school age groups would follow in a similar fashion if and when health conditions warrant). The agency will provide additional training for districts to ensure all schools are fully prepared to engage in any prospective rapid responses; and will finalize cleaning and sanitation protocols for districts and establish and refine enforcement and inspection protocols with the New Mexico Department of Health and other state agencies. PED will launch an anonymous portal where violations of COVID-Safe Practices can be reported.
“Our work has been to coordinate closely with school districts and local leaders to make sure we have strict and effective protocols to prevent positive cases and to make sure we can quickly respond to any positive cases that do occur,” Stewart said. “We have been preparing extensively and I’m confident we will execute. I’ve visited school districts and with educators and local stakeholders. We are all one community and our unequivocal priority – the safety and welfare of our children and school communities – is shared. We must also, to that end, ensure personal protective equipment is available. School districts across the state have already purchased more than 3.5 million masks, and PED and DHSEM will distribute another 700,000 in the next two weeks.
“This is all in service of making it possible for districts to make the case for an in-person learning environment this fall,” he added. “Of course, the virus has radically altered our lives, and that includes our public education system, and it’s an enormous strain on families, educators and children. We’ve got to step up to provide the best and safest circumstance for them. Our focus has been and will continue to be that we effectively deliver high-quality education to our kids during this pandemic with the health-first imperative that in-person learning can only happen if and when every single precaution for students, families and school communities is in place.”
Source: Office of the Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham