Rio Rancho Public Schools isn’t immune to what’s happening around the nation, and its students and staff members aren’t immune to testing positive for COVID.
In a span of just four days, the district’s schools went from none of them being near 3 percent of students testing positive to four schools implementing stricter policies because they’d reached 3 percent, and one school reaching 5 percent when the school board met virtually Monday evening.
On Jan. 20, six RRPS buildings had positive-test rates between 3 and 3.82 percent: Shining Stars Preschool, Joe Harris Elementary, Puesta del Sol Elementary, Mountain View Middle School, Cleveland High and Rio Rancho High.
On Jan. 24, joining the 3-plus percent schools were Maggie Cordova Elementary, Rio Rancho Elementary, Sandia Vista Elementary and Rio Rancho Middle School – with RRHS reaching 5.27 percent.
For comparison, on Jan. 25, the state had a seven-day positive-test rate of 30 percent.
“The greater risk is the inability to run the building,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland cautioned, with a possible return to virtual learning in the cards for some schools.
Santa Fe Schools is doing that for two weeks in hopes of getting a handle on the growing numbers of positive tests.
Staff absences decreased from 315 on Jan. 21 to 243 on Jan. 24, with teachers “covering up for each other” and 80 new positive cases noted on the 24th. And RRPS still has 141 teaching vacancies in its ranks.
Vacancies in the bus driver ranks and custodial help are also staggering, with bus routes sometimes combined and some buses running as much as an hour late. Cleveland was thankful for parents who now drive their kids to school to help the long-standing transportation woes within RRPS.
Cleveland said the cases may actually be under-reported and some inaccurate, and possibly some who are asymptomatic unwittingly spreading the virus.
“We have been pulling people out of the district offices to help with the substituting,” Cleveland told the board Monday.
Knowing some folks may suggest combining classes, Cleveland told the board, that can infect more students.
On the 24th, she added, 44 classes did not have a teacher or a substitute at the secondary level. Some of those classes were sent to the schools’ gymnasiums, where supervision isn’t easy.
The week before, Cleveland said, she became excited when she heard Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tell the state National Guard personnel would help in classrooms, but soon learned that would not be the case in RRPS. Troops are deployed instead to rural areas, “so there are no substitutes to be found.”
Maybe so, but board member Noreen Scott suggested that the governor, who recently said she’d welcome the opportunity to be a sub, could be invited to lead a classroom within RRPS. Scott said that would be “very exciting for our kids.”
Cleveland said she’d “reach out” to the governor to see if that could happen.
Board members agreed that it was very important to have in-person learning, especially in the elementary schools. Still, they deferred to Cleveland to make any decisions when it comes to returning to remote learning.
“Prepare for remote learning in case it happens,” is her message for parents. “It would be very short-termed,” she added, but a distinct possibility.
To improve safety on its campuses, and hopefully decrease positive COVID cases, Cleveland said the district implemented a handful of measures on Jan. 24:
- Visitors will no longer be allowed on campus;
- No large-group gatherings (assemblies, staff meetings and large events including the Science EXPO, CTE Career Fair, Independence High open house and elementary and middle school music recruiting trips, etc.);
- Recess times and spaces are now staggered and separated; and
- Masking rules are strictly enforced at events with spectators, and those who do not comply with proper mask-wearing will be removed from the facility.
In another matter, board members learned their respective districts may change after 2020 U.S. Census figures showed various population changes in all five districts.
Michael Sharp of Research & Polling, which has a history with RRPS dating back to the 1990s, explained the need for the possible changes.
Based on the growth of the city, per the 2020 U.S. Census – and with growth different in each of the five board districts – Sharp said districts 1 and 3 need to shrink a bit, District 4 needs to grow, and districts 2 and 5 could remain without change. Based on the districts’ proximity, Sharp said District 4 could move some residents into District 1, and District 1 could send some to District 3.
The board also:
- Heard an audit report from representatives of Accounting & Financial Solutions, who noted the “district appears to be operating well” with “cash balances improved from the previous year”;
- Heard information from Rio Rancho City Manager Matt Geisel regarding the city’s March 1 municipal election, which contains three bond issues and six charter amendment questions.
- OK’d a memorandum of understanding with CNM regarding skilled trades education, which was basically a non-binding partnership to share resources of both entities for CTE students.
- Approved an award to three companies for door and hardware maintenance/repair on demand, such as may be needed for locks, gates and more.
- Heard the second reading and gave final approved to a few changes made in Policy 1008 (student rights and responsibilities), giving the board “more options,” said Student Services Executive Director Sherri Carver on student hearings and subsequent decisions.
The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Feb. 14 at 5:30 p.m.