School closure extended
March 29, 2020
SANTA FE — When the New Mexico Public Education Department closed schools for three weeks due to COVID-19, it did so with the hope an April 6 return to normal instruction would be safe.
Two weeks in, “We know we haven’t reached the peak of this,” Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a Friday conference call.
With that, Stewart announced New Mexico schools will shift to a learn-at-home model and schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year.
“We know this announcement is not one we take lightly,” Stewart said. “It has a tremendous impact on our families, and we recognize that. We want to make sure we are doing everything in our power to keep social distance. We’ve got extraordinary educators across the state who are taking heroic actions to stay in contact with their students. We’ve had no shortage of community members and community partners stepping up to make sure we’re taking care of everybody. We had seen just a tremendous outpouring and incredible creativity and innovation.”
A news release from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the decision “is part of a two-pronged plan to protect New Mexicans from COVID-19 and ensure that children are protected, fed and educated and that families are supported through this crisis.”
New Mexico had 191 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases as of Saturday morning, including some that are being investigated as community spread, the state Health Department said. School closings are designed to minimize community spread.
Schools will continue to operate meal services, and district leaders from across the state were tasked to create continuous learning plans for the final few weeks of the school year. Stewart said a template was sent to build a plan that addresses the needs of high school seniors, academic support for kids who don’t have access to technology, special needs students and plans for family and community engagement.
High school credits will be awarded based on flexible approaches, including completion of work, demonstration of competency for course completion and expanded equivalency like work experience. The PED is also recommending schools move to pass/no credit rather than grades during this period.
Public colleges and universities are not included in the closure order, but most have either extended their spring breaks, moved classes online or both.
School-based health centers, educational programming for youth in facilities, and licensed child care facilities (centers and homes) serving workers whose jobs have been deemed essential will continue operating.
The following issues were among those included in the release and the conference call:
High school seniors
Individual districts will design measures by which seniors can demonstrate eligibility for graduation. Those measures could include testing, completing a series of assignments, achieving a set score on a college entrance exam or demonstrating applied work experience. Schools will be required to identify and support students in danger of not being able to graduate.
High school seniors will have until June 19 to demonstrate eligibility, and those who fail to do so will be offered credit recovery in the summer; they can also appeal to their local school board or to the secretary. No student will be denied graduation for lack of access to demonstrate competency.
Actual graduation ceremonies will be postponed or held virtually, depending on the prevailing public health order at the time.
Many high school seniors will have completed a college entrance exam already; additionally, many higher education institutions are expected to waive that requirement, and both the ACT and College Board are considering offering those exams in the summer.
Students with special needs will receive all feasible supports and accommodations that can be delivered while maintaining safe social-distancing. School districts must continue to support the transition of children from early intervention into preschool special education. Schools offering behavioral health services will remain open for that purpose.
Advanced placement exams will be offered online and will be limited to material students should have covered up to March. Accommodations will be made for those students who need access to technology to take the tests.
School personnel and contractors will remain on call and continue being paid as usual. Districts have already received guidance on activities employees can continue performing during the closure.
“It is not time off for everybody; people are not getting paid to not work,” Stewart said. “We want to thank our administrators, our employees, our unions for coming to the table with a mindset of collaboration.”
Bus contractors are encouraged to continue operating bus routes to deliver food and hard-copy lessons. Special education and other service contractors are encouraged to provide virtual services, collaborate with general education teachers and maintain documentation.
With schools closed, some children may be more vulnerable to abuse and neglect in their homes. In addition, teachers, school administrators and other school staff are often the first to notice changes in behavior and appearance that may indicate abuse or neglect. New Mexicans must fill this void and be extra aware of the safety and well-being of children they know and those in their neighborhoods. Any citizen can report suspected child abuse or neglect by dialing #SAFE from their cell phone or by calling 1-855-333-SAFE from a landline.
The Behavioral Health Division of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department is working with the New Mexico Human Services Department and managed care organizations to help providers and families create digital access to mental health services for children and youth.
“While it can be difficult to view the current situation with anything beyond anxiety and apprehension, we believe the wide-reaching consequences of this moment present a tremendous opportunity to transform education to serve all students, especially students who have traditionally been furthest from opportunity,” said Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff. “The decisions we make today are made with all of our students in mind. During this unprecedented time, we will continue to build into the public education system healing opportunities for students, families, communities and all New Mexicans.”