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State mandates masks in elementary schools

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

All students, staff and visitors to New Mexico elementary schools will be required to wear a face mask in the 2021-22 school year regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, according to the long-awaited back-to-school guidelines released Monday by the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The mask requirement will apply to elementary school buildings, transportation and indoor school-sponsored events.

At the middle school and high school levels, masks will be required only for unvaccinated students, staff and others when inside a school building, on school transportation or at an indoor school-sponsored event.

Brian Luck, superintendent of Roswell Independent School District, understands not all parents will be happy with the elementary school mandate. He just hopes they will understand it is not a decision that he, the school board or principals had a say in, but that the district will support it.

“Sometimes we have no choice but to follow the guidelines,” Luck said Monday afternoon, shortly after a virtual meeting with the PED.

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“We’re going to support it and we would ask that the public do likewise,” he said.

A virtual learning option will be offered again this year for families who don’t want their children in a classroom, Luck said.

Luck said the PED’s reasoning for the elementary mask mandate seems to center around the fact no vaccine has yet been approved for those under the age of 12.

“They kept returning to this particular age group being an at-risk group with virtually nobody vaccinated in the group,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does acknowledge children contract COVID-19 less often than adults and often have less severe cases, but there is still a risk of children getting the disease or passing the virus on to family members.

“Although I don’t necessarily know that I agree with them on this, I want to support this,” Luck said.

The good news is elementary students will not be required to wear masks when outside, such as for physical education or recess. They also won’t have to wear masks when eating or drinking.

“Last year we didn’t have really any kind of mask break. It looks like we’ll have an opportunity for our kids to break free of it,” he said.

Drinking fountains can be used this year, according to the guidelines, eliminating the need for the district to provide students with bottled water like last year. Singing and playing wind instruments is also allowed, with precautions, as is overnight and out-of-state travel.

The PED guidelines do say there is no requirement for anyone to disclose their vaccination status, but says that vaccinated students, staff, volunteers and visitors to secondary schools or events — including indoor sports — who do not want to wear a mask must provide evidence of their vaccination status.

Schools will be required to develop a system to quickly identify those who have provided vaccine evidence. That could be identification cards printed on a different color background or a list at the front office shared as needed with school staff. If no system is created, then all individuals will be required to wear masks, according to the guidelines.

Luck said he and other RISD officials were still going through the guidelines and that details such as how lunches will be handled are still being worked out, but he believes all the district’s schools will be ready by the first day of classes on Aug. 4.

“We’ve done our due diligence. We have the necessary cleaning supplies, we have the necessary (personal protection equipment) to do this correctly and safely. RISD is in good shape. Our buildings are going to be ready to go,” he said.

For the virtual option at RISD, children in middle school and high school will be able to enroll in Apex Learning, a self-paced system.

“This will be 100% Apex. We will be assigning kids to a teacher. That will be different this year. All that person is going to do is they’re going to monitor their group of kids,” Luck said.

Apex students will be encouraged to stay enrolled in the virtual option for an entire semester, but if the student or parents change their mind and want to return to in-person learning, Luck said the district will work with them to make sure the student is ready academically to join a class.

Elementary students will also have the option for virtual learning, but Luck said that is still in the works. It should be ready for the first day of classes, he said.

“We’re working on what the elementary option would look like. It’s not as simple with them,” he said. “We’ve had the contingency plan but we just feel like we want to put the finishing touches on that.”

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

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