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Superintendent's News

Posted: December 3, 2021

Keeping the Doors Open

Supt. Elder writes about taking a proactive approach to keeping schools and offices open during the COVID surge.

New Mexico saw the same number of COVID-19 cases as it did a year ago when much of the state shut down, and we were still teaching, learning, and working remotely. So how is it that we can continue to keep our schools and offices open with no intention of closing down again? By taking a proactive approach to prevention, safety, and health that involves everything from vaccinations, testing, and contact tracing to masking and distancing to improved ventilation and sanitation. 

We know all too well from last year’s experience that in-person learning is best for the vast majority of our students. So, we soldier through with an ever-evolving battle plan that allows us to keep our doors open even as cases surge and new variants appear.

The latest iteration of our mitigation strategy is the Test to Stay program, which we rolled out in December. As you probably know by now, Test to Stay allows unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students and staff exposed to COVID-19 to stay at school or work as long as they test negative on the days that follow. Allowing students and staff to test at school or an APS facility is more convenient and practical.

We also have made it easy for students and staff to get the COVID vaccine, including the booster, by allowing our partners to host weekly shot clinics at APS schools and facilities for about a year now. They have been averaging 700 shots at four clinics a week for a total of about 75,000 shots in arms by the end of 2021. And we’re not done yet. There are a dozen shot clinics planned in January, so if you know anyone looking for their first, second, or booster shot, share the information: COVID Shot Clinics at APS Schools, Facilities.

While Albuquerque Public Schools, like Bernalillo County and the state, has seen a surge in COVID cases, only a handful of our schools have reached a 3 percent positivity rate among students and staff during a two-week period. When a school reaches that threshold, district personnel conduct a site visit and meet with school administration to ensure compliance with current COVID-safe practices and provide recommendations for enhanced mitigation strategies.

Fortunately, none of our schools have reached a 5 percent positivity rate, but should that happen, we have come up with a list of additional precautions to help reduce the spread. These include outdoor learning and eating when possible, keeping students in cohorts, allowing only essential visitors, restricting spectators at school events, staggering transitions times, and restricting locker use.

If these sound familiar, that’s because many schools have already implemented some of the enhanced mitigation strategies as a precautionary measure.

It’s an all-hands process, with each of us playing a role in keeping our students and staff healthy and safe. I know you're tired, I am, too. But don't let your guard down. Here’s how you can continue to help:

  • Get your COVID booster vaccination. And your flu shot.
  • Wear your mask correctly when you are indoors in schools and public spaces.
  • Continue social distancing – stay six feet apart.
  • Take breaks alone or in appropriately distanced, mask-wearing small groups.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Clean all surfaces. 

Thanks for doing your part. It is making a difference.