LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas Board of Education voted 4-1 Tuesday to send students back to the classroom for in-person learning starting at the high school level and then with middle school and elementary school after.
The motion was made by board president Bryan Smith and seconded by David Vickers — and this time voted in approval by board members Frank Otero and Eloy Giron. Steven Otero voted against the motion.
Los Lunas Superintendent Arsenio Romero’s presentation on returning to school on Tuesday focused on the idea of allowing choice for parents and students to either stay in a remote model or head back to the classroom for in-person learning.
Romero’s latest plan slightly differs from the plan he presented at the Feb. 16 special meeting. The plan allows for high school students to head back to the classroom on Monday, March 8, for reorientation, and March 22 for hybrid instruction. Students at the elementary and middle school levels get a start date of March 22 for small group instruction.
Students will be divided into two cohorts — one that attends class on Mondays and Tuesdays and another that attends on Thursdays and Fridays. Students who ride the bus to school will arrive at 7:45 a.m. and core classes for in-person learning will take place from the morning until noon. After noon, students may participate in electives. Breakfast and lunch will be grab-and-go style.
Surveillance testing is in place, Romero said, and the district plans on working with Raptor, a technology company, for pre-screening for students and staff prior to in-person learning each day. The survey asks a series of questions from contact with an infected individual to taking temperatures of students and staff. Twenty-five percent of staff will need to be tested randomly in the hybrid environment.
During board discussion, Smith said he believes the district is ready to send back staff and students for in-person instruction, adding Romero and his staff have taken the right steps insofar as creating a safe learning environment.
“I still believe that we are ready to send students and teachers back,” Smith said.
Board member Frank Otero said, “… the students deserve our discussion all the time,” when bringing up the fact that meetings discussing hybrid reentry have taken place every two weeks since Feb. 2.
“A month ago, there were still infections and deaths, and our numbers are going down now,” Frank Otero said. “The bottom line is we have kids that are not thriving at home and they are not getting attention that we as a school district need to give … there’s a certain need for some actual face-to-face instruction.”
That choice also extends to teachers in the district, Romero said, as they can choose to teach remotely or in the classroom.
A survey from NEA Los Lunas of its member educators showed that 70 percent of teachers in the district are willing to go back for in-person learning once they receive vaccines.
Educators who didn’t want to head back to teach in-person were asked to provide medical records previously, but Romero said that policy has now changed as teachers who want to remain in the remote model can do so without providing any documentation.
The district previously purchased more than 600 HEPA air filters for schools — and at the two high schools in the district had them installed, including getting the systems approved by local fire marshals. The rest of the school sites — at middle schools and elementary schools — will be approved before they head back in late March.
School employees at different sites have been requesting PPE from the district warehouse to begin phasing students back in. Buses will be sanitized daily, as well as what Romero called “high contact” areas on school sites.
A letter was approved by the board to separate sports from hybrid instruction, which was sent to the governor’s office. What that letter said, in part, is that student athletes should be “students first,” adding that those students are more successful when they are able to participate in sports. The letter also mentions how students district-wide have been depressed due to not being able to participate this year in organized athletics.
Students in the district can also receive a physical education credit with NMAA interscholastic activities, such as JROTC and marching band after the board approved a policy to do so. This would allow students to circumvent taking PE and trade it out for other options.
“This is bringing us in line with what the statute says to do,” Romero said, adding if this policy wasn’t approved it would affect all grade levels including seniors ready to graduate.