Despite knowing it is not likely to be approved, the Roswell Independent School District will request a waiver from the state to increase the allowable student-teacher ratio, hoping to give young students a break from remote learning.
During the discussion for the need for students to be in the classroom, Superintendent Mike Gottlieb presented grade figures that suggest more than 60% of RISD students have received at least one failing grade in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year.
“As your superintendent, I can tell you right now we’re failing our kids and failing our kids terribly,” Gottlieb said.
Under the Public Education Department’s guidelines, RISD could have small groups of kindergarten through third-grade students in the classroom at a ratio of 5-to-1, but that is not feasible with the district’s staffing and student population, Board President Hope Morales said.
Gottlieb said at a Sept. 22 board workshop the 5-to-1 ratio would mean students would be in the classroom every six days.
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Despite word last week from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Education Secretary Ryan Stewart that increases in student-teacher ratios would not be considered due to the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state, the board directed Gottlieb to submit a request for the waiver allowing a 9-to-1 ratio for kindergarten through third-grade classes.
The waiver is not specific to the PED’s pandemic re-entry plan but is a tool that schools have had available when, for example, a class is overloaded. The waiver would be in effect for one year.
“At 9 to 1, I have the greater opportunity to bring those kids in, and the blessed part of that is that you can see them twice a week all day long,” he said.
In addition, having the students in the classroom would allow the district to use substitute teachers when needed. Because of the software training needed, substitutes are not used in remote learning.
That could be important, as cases of COVID-19 have been reported in RISD.
Gottlieb reported 32 RISD staff and 46 students have tested positive for COVID-19 this school year. He estimated more than 90% of the cases were from community spread, rather than a direct transmission within the buildings.
The students reported having COVID-19 are among all students whether they are remote learners or those allowed in the school buildings such as children of staff members and those with individual education plans, as well as athletes attending small-group training.
More than 275 staff members have been put on leave for two weeks of quarantine since July 1, Gottlieb said. Teachers were able to conduct their remote classes from home. All staff members who have previously tested positive are back at work.
The agenda for Thursday night’s meeting originally included consideration of a resolution that would have requested the governor to allow the 9-to-1 ratio in RISD schools, but at the beginning of the meeting, Gottlieb asked it to be removed from the agenda.
“We are now at the point where we are reaching the highest numbers in the state and our resolution is asking the governor to give us some leeway. I think it would not be well received by the governor’s office,” Gottlieb said.
In order to open schools for the hybrid model of learning — when half the students would be in the classroom for two days and learning at home for three days — a county must meet the state’s gating criteria of fewer than eight new cases of COVID-19 per day per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate under 5% during a two-week data period.
Chaves County, in the latest data period of Sept. 29 to Oct. 12, had 43.6 cases per day — the highest in the state — and a test positivity rate of 9.5%.
Board President Hope Morales said it was important to do something, however.
“It’s been absolutely horrible for some of our students,” she said. “Even though she (the governor) is not going to approve it, I want our constituents to know I hear you and I’m going to try to do something.
“I don’t like us not trying to do something when our families, they’re calling me, the teachers, they’re begging for something,” she said.
During the discussion, Gottlieb — his voice at times breaking with emotion — talked about the difficulties RISD staff and students face in remote teaching. He is often allowed in on teachers’ Zoom classrooms and visits school buildings daily.
“I see what they deal with on a daily basis, on an hourly basis. I will tell you, I’m very proud of what they’ve done but we’re not meeting their needs,” he said.
He said teachers have been engaged with their students online and are quick to mute or move kids into another virtual room when “very inappropriate” behavior arises. He also mentioned attempted suicides and self-injury among students.
The problem is not just in Roswell, he said, but statewide and nationwide.
More than half the state’s kindergartners have failed the first assessment test, he said, when that number is usually around 19%.
He then opened a notebook and gave the board an overview of grades at RISD schools. He did not name which schools the figures were from and said data from other schools is still being verified.
At just one of RISD’s four middle schools, there were 3,549 Fs given and 1,104 Ds.
Among one group of high school seniors, there were 252 Fs and 112 Ds. Among another group of seniors, there were 101 Fs and 69 Ds.
“We can move people forward as we go through the years, but you can’t do that in high school,” Gottlieb said.
“We’re looking at over 60% or more of our students failing?” board member Hilda Sanchez asked Gottlieb.
“You’re correct. Good figuring on math, Ms. Sanchez, because you’re right,” he said.
Gottlieb said the goal in bringing at least the lower elementary grades into the classroom would be for students to have two days of in-class instruction.
For those days students are at home, they would have packets or online assignments rather than Zoom classes so teachers are not dividing their attention between two groups of students. Students would also have less time at their computers.
Gottlieb also reported the district’s “back on target” days on Oct. 14 through 16 at eight elementary schools appeared to have been helpful. No new instruction was offered at those schools those days to allow students to catch up on their work. It also emphasized that students are accountable for their grades unlike the pass/fail system set up last spring, he said.
The “back on target” days will be offered again he said, but the district will publicize it earlier so parents are more aware, he said.
City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.