All aboard: Students return en masse Monday for five days weekly of in-school learning for the first time in the 2020-21 school year, and the high schools welcome back sophomores and juniors.
Members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education learned at their special meeting this past Monday evening that an estimated 60 percent of enrollment is expected back, with the other 40 percent preferring to remain in a virtual environment, according to a parent survey with a 70 percent response rate. Hybrid learning, a combination of the two, is no longer a choice.
There are still challenges to be faced, including the possible reduction of the 6-foot social-distancing requirement from the state Public Education Department in classrooms where there are too many students to enact it. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already changed that 6-foot distance to 3 feet.
“It’s a little bit anticlimactic,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, pleased to tell the board there’d been no evidence of COVID-19 spread through the school district.
Elementary School Improvement Officer Janna Chenault said more than 500 students in grades K-5 want to remain virtual next year.
Chenault said that, “as the (elementary) students get older, more of them want to come back,” Oddly, Secondary School Improvement Officer Renee Saucedo said, when it comes to secondary students, “(the) older they get, the less they want to be in school.”
Saucedo also noted, per the parent survey, 296 middle school students and 322 high school students prefer to continue full-virtual learning in the 2021-22 school year.
Early release on Wednesdays will return, except for Colinas del Norte and Puesta del Sol elementary schools.
Additional staff will be in schools to monitor distancing and mask-wearing.
Plenty of personal protective equipment is on hand, including N95 masks for staff members, with masks handed out to students forgetting to wear them boarding buses or entering buildings.
Schools will receive deep cleanings after school Wednesdays and on Saturdays.
Taking temperatures of students is no longer mandatory, although teachers will keep an eye out for students displaying signs of illness. Teachers and education assistants will have their temperatures taken.
Board member Catherine Cullen was dismayed the board had OK’d spending more than $159,000 on thermometers — “a quick decision that the board had made,” she said — but Baker said the units are “deployed.”
Staffing is still a challenge, although Human Resources Executive Director Mike Chavez said that in light of 36 teaching vacancies district-wide, 32 teacher-interns will help resolve that problem. There are 41 EA vacancies, he added, but there has been an increase in hiring, and substitutes are indicating they’re interested in helping.
Chavez also reported 31 custodial openings and six bus-driver openings.
May graduations for Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools are in the works, with ceremonies planned at each school’s football stadium, assuming the county is “Yellow” at the time. If so, with the state-mandated 25-percent occupancy for Yellow counties, the attendance — excluding graduates expected to be seated on the fields — would be 1,600, properly distanced and masked.
Saucedo said she’s working with Independence High School and Cyber Academy on their graduations. Traditional kindergarten and fifth-grade “graduations” won’t happen.
“The various departments have done everything anyone could reasonably do to keep our students and our staff safe,” Cleveland said, noting a 900-student shortage. “We are in a lot better shape than many districts.”
The next board meeting will be April 12 at 5:30 p.m. Although the board will meet in person for the first time since March 2020, the meeting will not be open to visitors, who will be able to view the proceedings online.