LAS CRUCES – After a three-and-a-half hour presentation and discussion, the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education voted to approve a motion to “increase opportunities for face-to-face learning,” but there is no solid plan of what this will look like.
The idea behind this motion is to allow the district to “take local control” and define what hybrid means for LCPS.
School board members advocated for the district’s most vulnerable students to return to school buildings in small groups rather than allowing all students who want to return to in-person classes at once.
Previously: Las Cruces school board votes to ‘increase opportunities’ for in-person learning
LCPS has been in remote learning since March 2020 after New Mexico schools were shut down in order to mitigate the spread of SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Last Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced, regardless of the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in each county. This announcement came as a shock to many district officials.
“Let’s take it upon ourselves and take the local control that we should have had in the beginning,” LCPS board president Ray Jaramillo said during Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Let’s come up with a plan that fits us.”
More: LCPS parents and children advocate for in-person schooling
This new plan, which is not yet defined, will look at individual student needs rather than taking the entire district in at once. The board members wanted to take this approach to hybrid learning as a way to ease into more in-person instruction.
LCPS Superintendent Karen Trujillo will be working with the district to develop a plan to present on Feb. 16 to the board to address the idea of increased face-to-face learning opportunities.
Ultimately, the New Mexico Public Education Department will need to approve that plan.
Why not full hybrid?
Trujillo gave a presentation on the district’s goals and outlined a proposed plan and timeline for full hybrid entry. This plan would have had grade levels pre-K, kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade returning the week of Feb. 22, while all other grade levels would have begun the week of March 1.
However, the board members were apprehensive about this plan and ultimately did not approve of it.
“When looking at this presentation, for myself, it’s too big, it’s too ambitious, it’s too fast,” said board member Teresa Tenorio.
In the hybrid learning model, students would attend in-person classes two days a week and be online three days a week. LCPS students would mostly be divided into two groups alphabetically by last name: A-L last names will attend school in-person Mondays and Tuesdays and M-Z last names will attend school in-person Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are for cleaning school buildings.
Students could choose to continue learning remotely.
Related: LCPS superintendent to host live Q&A for parents on Thursday
Board member Maria Flores brought up the discomfort she felt due to pressures from the state level to return to in-person learning.
“I feel bullied by the state,” Flores said. “I don’t feel comfortable opening in any way. But if teachers are willing to go back, if they feel safe going back, then they should go back and work in the small groups that are identified as needing this instruction.”
The school board also did not want to force teachers back into an in-person learning situation while many staff have yet to receive the COVID-19 vaccines. Although nearly 1,500 staff members have received their first vaccination and are scheduled to receive their second before Feb. 22, Trujillo said that about 600 educators who wanted the vaccine have not been scheduled to receive it yet.
Board members Tenorio, Flores and Terrie Dallman each said they’d like a plan that allows schools to reopen two weeks after teachers and staff get a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.
The trouble with sports
One of the big focuses of the discussion was the barrier to get student-athletes into sports competitions. The state requires participants in New Mexico Activities Association competitions to be from school districts with a hybrid model. Student-athletes can begin practicing with a school’s team as soon as the hybrid model goes into effect, but must wait two weeks before playing against other schools.
Trujillo clarified that although the school must be in hybrid learning to qualify, the individual students do not need to necessarily be in hybrid learning to be able to participate. This means that a football player could take remote courses and still be able to participate in football games as long as his school was considered to be in the hybrid learning model.
‘It’s about removing barriers’: LCPS moves forward with equitable grading scale
The big question is whether the district’s new plan will be able to meet the state requirements of hybrid learning in order to participate in NMAA competitions.
“The definition (NMPED is) using for (hybrid) is that any student who wants to return face to face can do so two days a week,” Trujillo told the Sun-News on Wednesday. “That’s a very difficult thing to accomplish … If the PED definition remains that definition, I can’t imagine that that’s something we’re going to be able to accomplish. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I’m saying it’s not likely.”
Trujillo and the district are hoping the NMPED will allow LCPS to develop its own definition of hybrid learning in order for the schools to qualify for NMAA competition.
According to Trujillo’s presentation 64% of students, or about 15,000 districtwide, “want” to participate in hybrid learning.
Tenorio told the Sun-News following Tuesday’s board meeting that educators and community members now have an opportunity to voice their opinions on how this transition to hybrid would work best.
Trujillo will be working alongside teachers, principals, staff and the board members to develop this plan before Feb. 16.
“We’re just gradually taking it to those next steps, and really wanting to let the superintendent … her principals and teachers to kind to see what’s going to work for them,” Tenorio said. “This is basically the design phase … We don’t want to start with every grade back … We don’t want to try to get ahead of ourselves.”
Jaramillo said he trusts Trujillo and her team to plan a safe and comfortable transition to newly defined hybrid learning, but he himself will not be sending his daughter, who is a junior at Centennial High School, to hybrid learning if that opportunity arises
“As an elected official, I think I represent the bigger picture,” Jaramillo said. “I have to represent both sides … For the most part that was successful last night.”
Related: Could LCPS see a ‘normal’ graduation in May?
Jaramillo said he and his family are being cautious because his wife has multiple sclerosis, putting her at high risk of complications from the virus.
Jaramillo added that the community has a huge impact on whether this transition will go smoothly.
“It’s important that the community know that we still need their help for this to work,” Jaramillo said. “As our numbers are trending down, we need to continue to trend down. If we go the other way, it’s going to be very difficult to support this decision.”
In Trujillo’s presentation on Tuesday, she noted that the positivity rate in Doña Ana County is down to 4.75% for the past seven days, meaning the county could move from red to yellow if that trend continues. The state uses a county’s positivity rate and number of infected people per 100,000 residents to determine a color. Red means a county is meeting neither of the state’s gating criteria, while yellow means a county is meeting one of the criteria. Restrictions would be reduced in a county that is yellow.
“Let’s continue to do good things,” Jaramillo said. “Please wear your mask, please do social distancing, please do everything possible to allow our students to be able to come back, because we can’t go in the other direction.”
Miranda Cyr, a Report for America corps member, can be reached at [email protected] or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.
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This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces Public Schools to increase face-to-face learning. Here’s what you need to know.