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Public schools to close as prevention step

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All Chaves County public K-12 schools, along with public K-12 schools across New Mexico, will be closed for three weeks starting Friday afternoon.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made the announcement of statewide public K-12 school closures Thursday evening, saying the state wants to act proactively to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The announcement made by the governor, the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Health Department affects the 21 schools of the Roswell Independent School District, public charter Sidney Gutierrez Middle School in Roswell, and public schools in Dexter, Hagerman and Lake Arthur.

RISD Interim Superintendent Michael Gottlieb (Submitted Photo)

RISD students had their last day of school Thursday prior to a five-day spring break week from March 16 to March 20, Interim Superintendent Michael Gottlieb said.

Friday was scheduled as a non-teaching district-wide professional development day for teachers, which also has been canceled.

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The state announcement indicated that officials will hold a 10 a.m. Friday press conference at the Capitol in Santa Fe to give additional details. The press conference also will be live-streamed on Facebook.

“This is a proactive measure to limit the potential community spread of COVID-19,” said Education Secretary Ryan Stewart. “We have seen other states take this measure after they have experienced community spread of this virus. New Mexico is going to be proactive and do everything we can to prevent the potential spread of the virus. I have been in communication with all of our superintendents about this proactive step, and we are all going to work together to address this public health challenge.”

Lujan Grisham also said that state officials wanted to give parents time to prepare and added that the state will seek to help families and youth who need it.

“We will be informing the public of additional measures that the state will be taking to ease the burden on families and educators and ensure that children continue to be fed and cared for,” she said.

As of Thursday evening, there had been six “presumptive” positive tests for the new virus strain in New Mexico, two in Socorro County, two in Bernalillo County and two in Santa Fe County, according to the New Mexico Health Department.

Presumptive tests have not been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If confirmed by the CDC, they are considered confirmed positive.

Gottlieb said that no student or employee of RISD is known at this time to have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We don’t want to cause panic,” he said, “but we also want to give people information on how to stay safe.”

He recommended that people visit the state Health Department website, nmhealth.org, for current information and recommended safety precautions.

He said that he and other RISD officials will receive information on how to provide lunches to those who need them during the two weeks after spring break, or starting March 23. It is anticipated that food will be delivered to different locations within the city, he said.

He added that, once details are known, the district will distribute the announcement to parents through robocalls and via social media and the RISD website, risd.k12.nm.us.

The question about what will occur regarding students’ education after March 23 still needs to be determined in consultation with state officials, Gottlieb said.

“Right now, we do not have online course availability for everyone,” he said.

He also said that student assessments were scheduled to occur after spring break and are expected to begin whenever school resumes.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.