This advice can be seen on Loma Colorado Boulevard, near Rio Rancho High School, where the Class of 2021 is expected to be back in the classrooms next Monday, Feb. 22. Gary Herron photo.

Sixth-graders will finally get to see their new classrooms, as will high school seniors, next Monday, when in-person learning resumes on a hybrid basis for some Rio Rancho Public Schools secondary students.

Seventh- and eighth-graders will return to the schools at a to-be-determined date, as will high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

Families who selected the virtual model of learning for the school year will continue with virtual learning. The school board’s decision only impacts the families who selected the hybrid model of learning.

Busing will be available to students who need transportation.

As of press time, this plan does not meet the New Mexico Public Education Department and governor’s guidelines to have extracurricular activities, including athletics.

Just before 10 p.m. Monday during a virtual meeting, members of the RRPS Board of Education voted unanimously on a re-opening plan, which was the first of four options detailed before them.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland told the board, “We all decided we wanted the easy way (to re-open) … so far, we haven’t found it. There is no right way.”

New Mexico schools aren’t playing by the same rules as in other states, so there wasn’t a simple answer. But, she added, the long-term goal is to have all students back in school next fall.

In their four-hour meeting, the board heard of the challenges being dealt with, the timetable for the PED and city fire marshal to inspect the middle and high school buildings, how transportation difficulties will be met and, in spite of staffing shortages, “Our facilities will be ready to go,” Chief Operations Officer Mike Baker said.

Mike Chavez, executive director of Human Resources, reported on the results of a recent survey sent to secondary educators.

  • 16.9 percent responded “yes” to accepting hybrid students in the classroom;
  • 33.3 percent said they preferred to stay virtual until they’d been vaccinated; and
  • 49.8 percent wanted to remain in the virtual mode until the end of the semester.

The board heard Cleveland go over extracurricular activities, although nothing is officially certain in that aspect.

Students must sit in the classroom for two weeks before being able to participate, according to how the rule reads now, and with not all districts finalizing plans to return to the hybrid format for secondary schools, those remaining in the virtual-only format won’t take part in athletics and other extra-curricular activities.

With Albuquerque Public Schools and Los Lunas Schools either staying virtual or undecided, Cleveland wondered what teams would Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools face? Artesia, Carlsbad, Hobbs and Gallup are returning to hybrid, she said, but long road trips are also problematic; should the opposing teams meet at a neutral site?

If so, that will cause a dent in the athletics’ transportation budget, because the school buses and even activities buses wouldn’t be able to make long trips. A bus or two would need to be chartered, at an extra cost of about $1,000 each, but would have restrooms aboard.

And, since student-athletes wouldn’t have use of locker rooms and showers, she said, that would be awkward returning from games and matches.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass reported that CHS had had two rapid responses the week of Feb. 1-5 and another on the evening of the board meeting. One more rapid response would result in the school being shut down for two weeks and unable to compete.

Those rapid responses were without students, other than athletes practicing in small pods, on campus.

After the 5-0 vote, board member Noreen Scott said, “None of us made this decision without a great deal of thought and caring for our entire staff and especially for our teachers,” and board member Catherine Cullen said she had gone through “hours and hours of research.”

Board President Amanda Galbraith told the board she’d been awakening at 2 a.m. every day, filled with anxiety and, she added, “Really, the work is just beginning.”

In other matters Monday, the board heard Happy Miller — executive director of research, assessment, data & accountability – provide an update on spring testing for the 2020-21 school year. She said such tests are still required to be done in-person and on campuses, which poses a problem in logistics in light of students on the virtual-only format. But, Miller said, 489 current high school juniors, 40 percent of them, have indicated they’re prepared to take SAT exams March 3. Cleveland said RRPS is working to get approval to waive five federal tests unless a parent requests such a test be done, and that colleges “are looking at the whole career of a student rather than just this one (pandemic-related) year.” Miller indicated the Class of 2021 will not be impacted by test results.

The board’s next regularly scheduled virtual meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22. Galbraith mentioned as Monday’s meeting began that the district was “working towards getting back to in-person meetings,” although no specific date was given.

RRPS plan for reopening secondary schools

Here is the summary of the plan for RRPS schools opening to sixth-graders and seniors Feb. 22.

Middle Schools
• Will continue to use Edgenuity online learning platform.
• “A Group” (last names beginning with A-L) will attend Mondays and Tuesdays with unsynchronized distance learning on Wednesdays and remote learning on Thursdays and Fridays.
• “B Group” (last names beginning with M-Z) will attend Thursdays and Fridays with unsynchronized learning on Wednesdays and remote learning on Mondays and Tuesdays.
• In-person learning days will run from 8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
• Grab-n-go lunches.

High Schools
• Teachers will teach virtual and hybrid students simultaneously.
• “A Group” (last names beginning with A-L) will attend Mondays and Tuesdays with unsynchronized distance learning on Wednesdays and remote learning on Thursdays and Fridays.
• “B Group” (last names beginning with M-Z) will attend Thursdays and Fridays unsynchronized distance on Wednesdays and remote learning on Mondays and Tuesdays.
• In-person learning days will run from 7:20-11:30 a.m.
• Grab-n-go lunches.

(The phase-in dates for grades 7-11 are yet to be determined. The Feb. 22 start date is subject to all inspections, plan approvals from the PED and rapid-response criteria.)

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer