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RISD begins planning for upcoming school year

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The Roswell Independent School District is breaking down the task of how to do more with less for the 2020-21 school year.

The New Mexico Public Education Department this week released its guidelines for starting school in the fall that includes starting the year with a mix of in-class and distance education along with requirements for sanitation and monitoring staff and student health.

Meanwhile, the revised budget bill passed by the New Mexico Legislature in last week’s special session calls for adding 10 days to the school calendar to make up for instructional time lost in distance learning.

A group of almost 30 people including RISD administrators, teachers, parents and custodians is taking on the details of meeting the PED guidelines in the five weeks before school starts. They met twice this week, and will be meeting in smaller groups starting next week, each taking on a different aspect of reopening the schools.

But RISD Superintendent Mike Gottlieb is concerned how that task will be paid for after the Legislature removed some of the funding intended for that purpose.

The revised budget bill reduces the amount of funding schools were to receive from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in what an analysis by the Legislative Education Study Committee called a “swap” of funds from the state equalization guarantee. The SEG is the state’s funding formula for public education.

The Legislature reduced the SEG by $44.7 million in a “nonrecurring swap” of funds from the CARES Act, the analysis said. The federal act provided $13.5 billion in the Educational Stabilization Fund, which gave grants to states to distribute to Title I schools — those with a large number of students from low-income families.

New Mexico received more than $97 million, and RISD was set to receive almost $3 million of that, which would be shared with the charter school and Roswell private schools.

The revised budget bill would reduce RISD’s CARES Act funds by 49%, Gottlieb said. That money is needed for the increased costs of meeting health guidelines, he said.

“We have to buy all the supplies with this to get up and running,” he said. “Face masks, shields, cleaning supplies, all the online stuff that we’re going to be offering for parents to choose from.”

In fact, the PED’s guidelines for restarting schools encourages districts to use CARES Act funding to purchase devices including portable hotspots to help ensure students can get online.

About 53% of RISD students do not have either devices or internet at home, but the district is working to increase student access, Gottlieb said.

“I believe at this point in time, we will have enough Chromebooks for every student,” he said.

The district is also working on providing access for those devices outside each school building. From the parking lot of each building, the district Chromebooks would be able to access the district’s network.

“It doesn’t matter what school you go to, you could park at Goddard, it could be Del Norte, East Grand Plains. You park in that zone with our Chromebooks, then you’re able to log on to the district network,” he said.

The network would be accessible only to district devices, which would have federally required safeguards to block unapproved sites.

Still, Gottlieb anticipates the district will also have to supply hard copy packets for at-home learning as it did this spring after schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The PED’s guidelines stipulate that all New Mexico public schools will begin the year in what is called a hybrid operation, a combination of in-person and online instruction.

The number of students in a building at one time will be restricted to allow 6-foot social distancing or 50% classroom capacity. The PED recommends students be divided into groups that attend on certain days. For example, one group would be in the classroom on Mondays and Tuesdays while the second group does remote learning at home. They would switch for Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays a day for remote learning for all while the building is cleaned. Schools could also alternate the groups in the classroom from week to week.

Districts and the New Mexico Department of Health will monitor for COVID-19 outbreaks in the schools. If health conditions allow, schools could move into “full reentry,” where all students could return to the buildings. An increasing number of COVID-19 cases could send schools back into full remote learning.

The state will assess the data on a statewide level, but will take a regional approach. If data suggests moving to full reentry would be unsafe in a region, all schools in that region might be held back from moving forward, the PED guidelines said.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.