Home News COVID-19 Situation RISD prepares for shift to hybrid learning model

RISD prepares for shift to hybrid learning model

In this July 23 file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham talks about schools during an update on COVID-19 broadcast from the state Capitol in Santa Fe. More school districts in New Mexico can bring students back into classrooms in early February, Lujan Grisham announced Tuesday. The Democratic governor said she’s allowing schools to open their doors to students of all ages, in a major pull-back of restrictions that were based on county-level COVID-19 case rates and hospital capacity. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

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The mood around the Roswell Independent School District became somewhat frantic Tuesday, according to Superintendent Mike Gottlieb, with word that all schools in the state will be eligible for hybrid learning on Feb. 8.

All school districts, regardless of the risk level in their counties, will be eligible to shift to the hybrid learning model on that date, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in her state-of-the-state address Tuesday.

Guidelines released by the Public Education Department last summer suggest a model of 50% of students in class with the other half in remote learning on Mondays and Tuesdays with the two groups switching on Thursdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays, schools would be closed to undergo sanitization.

The decision of when and how — or even if — students return to classrooms will be up to local districts, however.

Although Secretary of Education Ryan Stewart said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon the PED had been suggesting in weekly conference calls that recent data would allow an expansion of hybrid learning, Gottlieb said districts only received word Tuesday morning about the governor’s announcement.

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“We did not anticipate it would be this early,” Gottlieb said. “This was a little bit of a surprise for us.”

It’s a move that RISD Board President Hope Morales has been looking for since school began last fall.

“As a parent, educator and board president, I have advocated consistently that the state allow local control on decisions related to school re-entry,” she said in a statement provided to the Roswell Daily Record. “I am excited about the governor’s announcement to allow for local boards to decide on district plans and I look forward to our board discussing and voting on this issue at an upcoming meeting. I invite our local families, educators and staff to contact their board member to share their input.”

A special board meeting will have to be set as the next regular meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9. Gottlieb said the district was waiting to receive and review updated guidelines from the PED before scheduling the meeting.

He was aware of a few changes and requirements, however, including the need for an inspection by a fire marshal and PED official before schools can open. The administration is finalizing other aspects of bringing students back in the meantime.

“We’re working out scheduling, bus routes, making sure our cleaning processes are in place, how we get the word out to the parents,” he said.

The district will also have to increase its rate of surveillance testing of staff for COVID-19. As of Jan. 1, the PED required districts to test 10% of their staffs weekly using a saliva test. Districts that are in counties in the very high-risk Red Level in the state’s risk assessment system, which includes Chaves County, will be required to test 25% of their staffs each week.

Gottlieb said RISD has been testing 147 staff members a week and has seen low test positivity.

“What we’ve picked up with people who are infected is very, very small. The most has been five in one week, most have been just one or two,” he said of the random tests.

“We hope it continues that way,” he said.

The low numbers fit with data from in-person instruction in England and North Carolina presented by Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department, during Thursday afternoon’s PED press conference.

In the North Carolina study, in 11 districts with more than 90,000 students, only 773 community-acquired infections were documented and there were no instances of child-to-adult transmission within the schools.

Scrase also presented data from New Mexico schools that were allowed to shift to in-person learning models earlier in the school year that reflected low transmission rates within the schools.

Student cases peaked at 50 statewide in early November and have been at a 3-to-1 ratio of teachers to students testing positive, he said. Statewide data also shows a recent downward trend in test positivity and transmission rates, Scrase said.

“We are at a good place in the state and also clearly also in a good place in the schools,” he said.

“Our modeling has been done in detail and it shows we can open safely with the hybrid model that we’ve been using so far,” he said.

Although all grade levels will be eligible for hybrid learning on Feb. 8, Gottlieb said RISD administration will likely recommend a rolled-out start. Elementary schools will start hybrid learning the first week and the middle and high schools the second week. That will give the district a chance to make sure the bus routes and other processes are running well and give some students a chance to see buildings they have never set foot in.

Because of the health order, RISD was not able to conduct its usual “welcome” events for sixth graders new to middle school and freshmen new to high school, Gottlieb said.

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

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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