Central New Mexico high schools still undecided on in-person learning

Belen High School (Adam Evarts / NM News Port)

By Adam Evarts / NM News Port

Shortly after the fall semester began, Albuquerque Public Schools announced that they will stick with online-only classes until January. Other central New Mexico school districts are waiting to see how the coronavirus pandemic plays out — and what the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) advises — before moving forward with plans to bring students back in-person using a hybrid model.

For Rio Rancho Public Schools, students who are in kindergarten through fifth grade will go back to school on Sept. 14. The district’s plans for the three high schools, however, are different.

“At this time, we don’t have a tentative start date for our high school students to phase into the hybrid model of learning,” said Melissa Perez, communication director for Rio Rancho Public Schools. 

According to Perez under the hybrid model of learning half of the students would do in-person learning on Monday and Tuesday, and then spend the rest of the week doing distance learning. The other half of the students would do distance learning on Monday and Tuesday, then in-person learning on Thursday and Friday. The schools will be closed on Wednesdays for cleaning.

“We must await approval and direction from the New Mexico Public Education Department before we can set a tentative phase-in date for high school students on the hybrid learning option,” Perez said. “We’ve asked our student families to commit 100% to staying on that option until the semester ends.” 

In Belen, the school district has begun hybrid learning for kindergarten through fifth grade students. They too are awaiting approval from NMPED to bring high schoolers into the hybrid model, which the district is aiming to do in October.

Bernalillo Public Schools are beginning hybrid learning on Sept. 21, but, as in Rio Rancho and Belen, they are waiting on NMPED to give approval for students to return to a hybrid model at the high school level. Much like Rio Rancho schools, Bernalillo allowed parents to choose whether their children do only distance learning this semester, or return to in-person learning part-time under the hybrid model.

In Los Lunas, school board officials have decided to wait until January before attempting to send any students, including high schoolers, back to school in person. 

Frustration is growing among some students. 

“If they wanted us to go back now, I’d go back no problem,” said Melissa Lerma, a freshman at Los Lunas High School. “This is a bit more difficult because I was more engaged in an in-person class.”

The Moriarty-Edgewood School District was ready to send their kindergarten through fifth grade students back after Labor Day, but they reversed course two days before and decided to keep those students on remote learning. Moriarty High School is awaiting NMPED approval to begin in-person classes. 

New Mexico Secretary of Education Dr. Ryan Stewart described a cautious approach to school openings. 

During the most recent public briefing on the matter on Sept. 10, Stewart said that NMPED will continue to “work with districts who are returning to a hybrid model to monitor and track proactively health screens for everyone in those schools and that the public health conditions remain right for continuing to reopen.”

Adam Evarts is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @adam_evarts19 or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.