The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Portales board discusses next steps

Board members admit most decisions already made by state.


March 15, 2020

Kevin Wilson

At the center is one of seven electrostatic disinfecting sprayers the district has on hand. Maintenance Director Nat Gomez said with the sprayer a worker disinfected the entire administrative building in 20 minutes.

PORTALES - When the Portales Municipal Schools Board of Education first announced Monday morning's emergency meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic late last week, members readied for a planning session.

The meeting itself, however, was more of an information session because, in the words of board president Alan Garrett, "Most of those decisions have been made for us."

Board members, and the crowd of just under 50 attending the morning meeting on the first day of a three-week state-mandated school closure, took no issues with Superintendent Johnnie Cain's two-page letter of directives for the district over the next few weeks.

Some audience members asked about extracurricular activities and events that might follow a planned April 6 re-opening, and frequently found uncertainty against the backdrop of how simple public interaction changed in just five days.

Throughout the meeting, Cain said the district would explore ways to recreate those experiences to students in some way when possible, because the kids had worked hard for the opportunities the closure had at least temporarily eliminated.

The district is operating under a state health department guideline banning gatherings of 100 or more people, and the Centers for Disease Control issued a recommendation to postpone or cancel any event of more than 50 people until May 10.

Communication would largely happen through existing online communication portals, with officials reporting email open rates of nearly 90% in the last week. The average for most industries is around one-third of that.

Items discussed included:

• Meal service: Cain said meal pickup would take place at Portales High School (east cafeteria door) and Lindsey-Steiner Elementary (west cafeteria door) 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m. weekdays. Breakfast and lunch are provided at the same time.

Cain said anybody under 18 can pick up the meals, and he wasn't concerned about whether the kids attended another Roosevelt County school since half of those students live in Portales and a trip to their school would cancel out any benefit of free meals.

Schools were told to require children to pick up the meals in person, but Cain said he'd trust parents because he feared the logistics of requiring a kindergarten student to get their own lunch.

"We'll look at numbers instead of worrying about names," Cain said.

Employees were to be paid as normal during the closure, with direct deposits and check pickups scheduled for March 30.

• School cleaning: Outgoing Maintenance Director Nat Gomez had a special guest at the meeting, a Clorox Total 360 electrostatic sprayer.

The district has acquired seven of the sprayers since they were introduced three years ago. The sprayers give the maintenance staff the ability to sanitize 18,000 square feet in an hour, and the administration building was sanitized prior to the meeting in roughly 20 minutes.

"We're in as good of a position as we can be," Gomez said, "not knowing months ago everybody was going to be struggling through a pandemic like this."

• Athletics: Athletic Director Mark Gallegos said coaches were allowed to send out optional workouts to players just to keep them in shape, but facilities would be closed and practices were banned during the closure.

The New Mexico Activities Association board of directors has planned an April 1 meeting to discuss the next steps, and there was no way to know what decisions would be made or even available. A track meet scheduled for April 9 at Eastern New Mexico University is assumed to be postponed if not canceled.

• Day care: The day care facility at Portales High would remain open, with no other facilities planned. Principal Arturo Ontiveros said no kids were brought to the faciilty Monday morning.

• Online instruction: Cain said neither the district nor the population at large has the infrastructure to convert all instruction to an online format, but current online instruction will stay in place.

"For all intents and purposes the online program is continuing as normal," Online School Administrator Garrick Matthews said, "other than us not meeting up at the high school."

Dual credit courses would continue as scheduled, with students asked to be in contact with their college instructors.

• If an employee tests positive: Cain said anybody who tests positive would have a two-week quarantine. If it happens during the closure period, he didn't anticipate an issue. Should that happen after schools reopen, he wasn't against allowing negative sick day balances if needed.

"It's not their fault," Cain said. "It will create some issues in the office, but I think we can handle that."

Board member Inez Rodriguez said anybody with concerns should contact the board. She was optimistic because the community had a history of coming together, and urged everybody to keep an open mind but use common sense.

"If it happens to one, it happens to all," Rodriguez said. "If there was ever a time I hated Facebook, it's now."


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