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Superintendent's News

Posted: January 29, 2021

When to Resume In-Person Learning

In his weekly message to employees, Supt. Elder responds to the governor's announcement that students may return to school campuses beginning Feb. 8.

You may have seen me on the news or heard me on the radio in the past couple of days talking about our plans for in-person learning. I wanted to share with you what I told the media this week.

The governor’s announcement on Tuesday that students may return to school campuses beginning February 8 has been met with cheers, angst, and quite a bit of confusion.

Understandably. There’s a lot to safely opening schools in a pandemic.

Albuquerque Public Schools has been working on a reentry plan for months, a fluid plan that is continually being modified:

  • As we learn more about the virus 
  • As the spread slows, then spikes, then slows again
  • As testing improves and becomes more accessible, allowing us to better track who is infected 
  • As our employees stand on the brink of getting vaccinated against the disease.

So now what? 

A few months ago, when the virus spread was at its peak, the APS Board of Education voted to continue remote learning for almost all of our students – the exception being some of our most vulnerable special education students – until Bernalillo County was categorized as “green” by the state Department of Health.

Since we're not there yet, one of the first things we need to do is go back to our board and see if they want to reconsider this requirement. With a nod from the governor and the state Public Education Department, combined with improved testing and the promise of vaccines, they may want to revisit that decision.  

On February 3, the APS administration will provide the board with an updated reentry plan. Board members will be given the opportunity to review the plan and decide on our reentry date. We don’t have that date yet, but it won’t be February 8. 

As of now, the APS Reentry Plan – which we have shared with the media, our employees, our students, and our families (we even put together a video) – calls for bringing back students in small groups at first, then adding grade levels – beginning with our youngest – every couple of weeks. Now that the PED has given the go-ahead to consider bringing back all grade levels, we are looking at how we might speed up the plan and get some middle and high school students in classrooms sooner than initially proposed.

Let me be clear -- we are talking about a combination of in-person and online learning. Our reentry plan calls for students to be on campus twice a week. The rest of the time, they would continue remote learning. At most, half of our students would be on campus at one time. Also, we expect many of our families will choose to continue online learning for their children.   

How soon, how many, and which students can be safely brought back to school is being discussed. A final decision hasn’t been made yet. 

I can assure you that our buildings are ready for the safe return of students and staff, whenever that may be. We have met all of the safety requirements outlined by the Public Education Department:

  • We have masks and other PPE
  • We have cleaning supplies and cleaning procedures in place – all of our soap dispensers are full, and we have installed handwashing and hand sanitizing stations
  • We’ve hung the required signage around our buildings
  • We have protocols in place for moving safely through the buildings
  • We have safe rooms for students or staff who may develop symptoms.

And we’ve been testing our employees, though we learned yesterday that we need to more than double the number tested each week.

We still need to get our oldest employees, our nurses, and those who work with our medically fragile students vaccinated. Our desire would be to get all of our employees vaccinated. 

We have some other details to work out. One of our biggest concerns right now is transportation. When schools closed, our bus contractors had to lay off drivers. They will need time to bring them back or hire new drivers, which means we probably won't have transportation available for the first group of students who return to our school buildings.  

Even if everything fell into place today, we couldn't meet all PED guidelines for a February 8 hybrid start date. For example, prior to opening for hybrid learning, schools need to be inspected by a designated state official such as the fire marshal to demonstrate readiness to operate according to established COVID-safe practices. With 143 schools, this process will take some time. 

We may not be ready on February 8, but we expect we’ll be able to come back in some form very soon after that. Our students, families, and staff will have plenty of notice. We have made it a point to be very transparent and communicative throughout this process. 

The good news is this: we know how to do school. We can do this, we will do this, and we’re going to do it safely. 

We want kids in school. That’s where they learn best. That’s our goal.