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

State goal: Full school reentry by April 5

 

Last updated 3/8/2021 at 5:35pm



SANTA FE -- The New Mexico Public Education Department and Department of Health announced Monday a goal to reach full school reentry by April 5, with the caveat that all school staff members will be offered a COVID-19 vaccine before March ends.

“We’re going back to school,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “The time has come to get back to the gold-standard in education, which is students and teachers together in classrooms. Our message to New Mexico public schools is that you can and should move as quickly as possible to get everyone who wants it back for in-person learning.”

Clovis Municipal Schools sent out a release late Monday that said it intended to return to full reentry on March 29.

All schools may immediately begin offering New Mexico Activities Association-sponsored activities, including sports, and may resume other curricular and extracurricular activities such as band, choir and drama.

The announcement moves New Mexico public schools to the third and final stage of the Public Education Department’s COVID-19 Safe Operating Categories. All schools were in the remote category until Sept. 8; most elementary schools were eligible for the hybrid category in the fall; all schools became eligible for the hybrid category Feb. 8; and all schools are now eligible for full reentry, which means all students can return to their school buildings for in-person each school day.

COVID-aafe practices will remain in place, including mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing, enhanced indoor air quality and social distancing to the greatest extent possible. Schools will be encouraged to use large communal spaces and outdoor spaces to maximize social distancing, especially during meal times.

Based on an increase in supply of vaccines, the state’s substantial progress in vaccinating priority groups and recent federal guidelines on vaccine priority, New Mexico is offering vaccines to every school staff member in the next three weeks. This week, vaccines will be offered to all school staff members who are registered for the vaccine and are outside the Albuquerque metro area. Next week, vaccines will be offered to all registered school staff members in the Albuquerque metro; school staff members not currently registered and who register in the interim will be offered vaccines in the week ending March 26.

“As part of New Mexico’s nation-leading vaccine distribution effort, DOH is focusing on vaccinating K-12 educators, early childhood professionals and staff. We are eager to support the safe return of educators and students to the classroom,” Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said.

More than 45,000 New Mexicans have registered as educators to receive the vaccine, and almost 15,000 have already received the vaccine as members of previously eligible groups — health care workers; those 75 and older, and those with certain health conditions that place them at high risk for serious outcomes should they become infected.

New Mexico currently has 50,864 K-12 school staff members -- including classroom teachers, administrators, bus drivers and food handlers.

Once school staff members provide evidence of full vaccination, they will no longer be required to participate in asymptomatic surveillance testing, which is used to prevent outbreaks. Since school reentry began Sept. 8, the overall positivity rate of school staff surveillance testing is 1%, including 0.3% since Feb. 8, when all districts were cleared to resume in-person learning.

A total of 52,200 of New Mexico’s 330,000 public school students are already attending in-person learning, most in the hybrid mode, which means they attend school in person two days a week and study remotely the other three days. Of the 50,000-plus people who staff public schools, 17,000 have already returned to in-person work.

“While we know our communities need time to plan, we expect them to move quickly. As a state, our expectation is for all schools to be offering in-person learning for every family that wants it. You tell us your start date, but that start date should be soon,” Stewart said.

Families still may choose for their students to study remotely, and if any district has a significant portion of students making that choice, the Public Education Department will provide whatever flexibility is needed.

“We are phasing out what we’ve been calling ‘hybrid’ learning, although there will continue to be a fully remote option for those families who choose it,” Stewart said.

Sports and other extracurricular activities may resume immediately at all schools, with explicit safety precautions in place.

For sports, precautions include no congregating during warm-ups or breaks in play; no overnight travel, and masks required for all except when eating or drinking. A complete list of sports guidelines is available on P. 23 of this document.

Choir and band will be allowed outdoors. Students may not share instruments and must follow COVID-safe practices such as the use of cloth bell covers on wind instruments. Both singers and musicians must be appropriately masked and must maintain enhanced social distancing of 9 feet when playing or singing in groups.

 
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