As of April 5, all students not planning to remain virtual will be back in the classrooms five days a week.
Schools first closed because of the pandemic about 55 weeks ago. The decision to return came March 8 after a press conference held by the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland went over the news during the school board’s virtual session last Monday.
On April 5, she said, “Students virtual or hybrid can return to in-person learning. … Hybrid will disappear.”
By then, it is hoped, all teachers will have been vaccinated. Cleveland said those with high-risk exemptions will be expected back in the classrooms two weeks following their second shots.
There are “some challenges ahead,” Cleveland noted.
Band, woodwind musicians and choirs have to practice outdoors, plus the district expects more ridership on school buses and more meal availability for in-person learners. Grab-and-go lunches remain available for students wishing to stay with virtual learning.
But, she advised, there will be no switching. Students desiring to remain virtual as of April 5 will not be allowed back into classrooms for the remainder of the school year.
RRPS students in grades 7, 8 and 9 returned to the classrooms, still in hybrid format, last Monday. High school sophomores and juniors head back to in-person learning April 5.
Cleveland reminded board members that RRPS educators are not mandated to be immunized, being that the vaccine is still considered experimental.
“You do not have to take it; it’s a personal choice,” she said.
That ruling may change when the “experimental basis” is over.
That said, another challenge is having substitute teachers on hand to relieve teachers experiencing problems after the booster shot.
Surveillance testing is ongoing, although the district will be able to reduce its mandated percentage, now at 12.5 percent, to 5 percent if Sandoval County moves into the “Turquoise” level of state restrictions. Teachers already having two shots won’t need to be tested anymore.
Much of the two-hour school board meeting was spent listening to the report of Fine Arts Executive Director Kurt Schmidt, proud of having spent his 22-year career within RRPS.
Schmidt:
• Outlined his department;
• Explained the difference between visual arts and performing arts;
• Reported that the elementary schools have 24 art and music teachers, and among them, they see every student during the year;
• Said 38 dance, drama, music and visual-arts teachers in the secondary schools “regularly teach at least 60 percent of secondary students”; and
• Explained the sources of funds for his department.
Also, Schmidt referred back to the PED directive about choirs, woodwind musicians and bands — socially distancing a 50-member band would be impossible indoors.
Schmidt added that he would continue to work with the PED, Department of Health and the governor’s office to “review the science.”
In other matters, the board:
• Commended the district’s health care team, led by nursing coordinator Jo Sanchez and resource nurse Kim Williams, for their diligence in keeping students and staffers safe during the pandemic;
• Thanked Friends of Libraries and Literacy for a $500 donation to purchase literacy puppets for Shining Stars Preschool;
• OK’d the sale of a piece of property on the Mountain View Middle School campus, with the proceeds being used to mitigate a flooding and drainage problem there;
• Approved the start of a five-year master plan for facilities;
• Endorsed Schmidt’s “Arts Are Education” resolution, ensuring RRPS will continue to fund all arts education, part of a national movement;
• OK’d two requests for proposals for integrated technology, which will qualify for federal Educational Rates and resolve technological capabilities, such as aiding the district to advance from 8-gigabit to 10-gigabit ability and do a fiber-refreshing for eight schools; and
• Agreed to keep Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary closed to transfers, in light of the ongoing construction project entailing a new HVAC system; Facilities Executive Director Melanie Archibeque termed the MLK Jr. project “one of our large bond projects” and said ceilings would be torn down and fewer classrooms would be available until the project is completed.
The board’s next meeting is slated to be live at the district office, 500 Laser Road, at 5:30 p.m. April 12. The meeting will also be live-streamed.

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer