Santa Fe school board to consider hybrid model prioritizing students with disabilities, limited internet | Coronavirus

Santa Fe Public Schools’ hybrid model reopening plan just might be a hybrid, too.

The district continues to aim for Oct. 15 as the start date for a learning model that combines both in-person instruction on campus and remote learning at home for some of its youngest students amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Local elementary schools would follow many others statewide that have opened their doors to students through hybrid learning models since early September under guidelines issued by the state Public Education Department. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave the green light before Labor Day for districts in areas with low transmission rates to reopen elementary schools.

But school leaders in Santa Fe will present a modified plan to the school board Thursday that calls for opening classrooms to specific elementary students rather than all kids at each school. The plan places priority on students with disabilities and those with limited or no internet access.

The plan says the district must prioritize students with disabilities to comply with federal law because they have not received any essential on-site services since the school year began remotely Aug. 20.

How many students will return to classrooms at each school will depend in part on the number of teachers and staff who have agreed to provide instruction on campus and the number of students who favor the hybrid model. Superintendent Veronica García said that number will vary from school to school.

The district is still compiling the list of teachers and staff members who have said they are willing return to campus and should have that number available by Thursday’s board meeting, she said.

Following a Sept. 17 school board meeting in which dozens of teachers expressed opposition to reopening schools, García made a request last week for teachers to notify their principals if they are willing to teach in person. Teachers at the meeting spoke about a wide range of concerns, from fears of contracting COVID-19 to how to keep classrooms sanitized to how to manage students learning both online and on campus.

García said she expects the ratio of remote-learning students to those in the hybrid group to range from 40 percent to 60 percent at each school.

Some schools with high demand for hybrid spots might have to hold a lottery to determine which kids will be allowed back into the building, she said.

“It’s like putting together a massive puzzle together,” García said. “It’s intense.”

The district’s modified reopening plan still needs approval from the school board and the Public Education Department.

Agency spokeswoman Deborah Martinez said in an email Tuesday districts can modify their hybrid learning model for schools with teacher or staff shortages that would make full reentry impossible.

Santa Fe school board President Kate Noble described the reentry plan as “gradual” and said it might satisfy some of the teachers’ concerns. It outlines the safety measures and guidelines the district will implement to keep everyone in each building as safe as possible, she added.

“People are scared, and I get it,” Noble said. “But fear is an incredibly powerful force. We have to prioritize health and safety, but we have to be reasonable about managing fear and not get caught up in it endlessly.”

There could be one major obstacle preventing Santa Fe Public Schools from implementing the first stage of its reopening plan by Oct. 15: the spread rate of the novel coronavirus.

García said she believes the rate in Santa Fe County is now slightly above the 1.05 threshold the Public Education Department requires before schools can reopen in the hybrid model. A transmission rate above 1 means the virus is continuing to spread.

The district has reported seven cases of the novel coronavirus among workers since Sept. 10, but García noted none of the infected employees worked at the same site and all contracted the virus off-site, according to contact tracing.

She also said students and parents will have to sign commitments to abide by the district’s face mask requirements before they will be permitted to return to the classroom.

“I think kids want to be in school,” García said. “And I think those kids who come to school, because they have the option to be in remote right now, will probably be more compliant when they are outside of school because they don’t want to get sick.”

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