It looks like schools across the state may open soon.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

In her State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, “Every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on Feb. 8.”
Additionally, Lujan Grisham said, “Teachers and school support staff all across New Mexico went the extra mile this year — and the extra mile after that, too. I’m in awe of your commitment and your integrity. And I will say clearly: None of you — no educator, no school worker — should ever have to choose between your health and the students you serve.”
Lujan Grisham said her administration “has been methodical and tireless in working with superintendents, charter leaders, the Department of Health, the Medical Advisory Team and both NEA and AFT to enhance the safety of school buildings and expand surveillance testing.”
Rio Rancho Public Schools has slated a special virtual meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m., with but one agenda item: “Review New Reopening Requirements,” a discussion to be led by Renee Saucedo, secondary school improvement officer, and Carl Leppelman, chief academic officer.
RRPS board member Noreen Scott said at Monday’s meeting, “There’s no substitute for in-person learning. And there’s no negotiating about the health and safety of students, families and educators.”
Dr. Margaret Honein, a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 emergency response team, said, schools are an important source of health and social services for children, as well as education.
“It’s not going to be safe to have a pizza party with a group of students, but outdoor cross-country, where distance can be maintained, might be fine to continue,” she said, urging against risky activities, including indoor sports.
The New Mexico Public Education Department posted on its website that “Beginning Feb. 8, all schools — elementary and secondary — in all counties will be eligible to enter the hybrid mode of instruction per the guidelines outlined in the current PED Re-entry Guidance Document and updated Rapid Response Toolkit.”
Included in the list of requirements, per the PED: “For red counties (which include Sandoval County), surveillance testing for all in-person staff at a rate of 25 percent per week to achieve 100 percent testing over a month’s time; for yellow and green counties, surveillance testing for all in-person staff at a rate of 12.5 percent per week to achieve 100 percent testing over two months’ time; plus an on-site visit to certify readiness to open safely.”
CDC officials contend there is little evidence that schools can stimulate the types of outbreaks seen in nursing homes and meat-packing plants, or lead to the increased transmission in communities.
“COVID has disrupted classrooms in New Mexico and indeed across our whole country. But dealing with the virus must not — and will not — derail our focus on improving outcomes in public education, on necessary long-term investments in family well-being and the health of school communities across the state,” Lujan Grisham said.
In 2021, RRPS hybrid students in grades K-5, plus younger kids at Shining Stars Preschool, have been in classrooms for seven days. For this year, including before students were in class in person, 11 schools, along with the RRPS district offices, have had DOH-confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total of 163 students and 44 staffers/contractors quarantined.
According to RRPS spokeswoman Melissa Perez, for January, the district has recorded 47 positive cases in students and employees/contractors.
It had 119 such cases in 2020. Quarantine numbers are 801 students and 486 employees/contractors for the 2020-21 school year.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer