The Las Cruces Public School Board voted unanimously for students to remain online through the first semester. Select groups, such as special education, At-Promise youth and early childhood students will be allowed regulated or limited in-person access throughout the semester.
In an emotional plea, School Board Member Maria Flores spoke about the dangers of putting students at risk.
“I know that sending students back to the classroom is what our students need, but I also know that we are not in control of the virus. The only way to stay safe is to practice safety, and there are no guarantees,” Flores said. “Last week, it was announced that 70,000 children had COVID-19 across the country due to schools reopening, and there were deaths. This is our reality, and one that we cannot pretend does not exist.”
The majority of public comments were of a different mindset than Flores. Many parents in the district stated concerns that virtual learning has been overwhelming, especially for elementary school students in need of supervision. One comment centered on the need to move forward.
“As the time outside of school increases, so does the decline of all children's mental health and emotional states…Many school districts around the nation are back in school,” one comment read. “This doesn't mean COVID-19 has left their state. It just means that they're treating each positive case by the classroom instead of by the entire school district. For the last six plus months, I have struggled with the question, what is worse, the pandemic or the cure? In my opinion, the cure has become far more detrimental to our children than the pandemic itself.”
Flores said despite outcry from parents, she feels it just isn’t safe to reopen.
“In response to the 40 plus emails and our public input today requesting that we reopen, I say no, not yet,” Flores said. “60% of our teachers and principals are not ready to go to hybrid. All we can do is attempt some reentries for our neediest students, testing the system all along the way.”
The decision to remain online followed a presentation by Superintendent Karen Trujillo, who advocated for continuing the online model due to safety concerns.
“The pros would be the consistency and online instruction for students, teachers and families and the opportunity to embark in that continued improvement, so that we are in that continued cycle of improvement, [and] additional time to prepare our buildings for spring 2021, including our air filtration,” Trujillo said. “Providing support and small groups for special education early childhood and At-Promise youth, including athletes and student activities with willing staff members, allows the district personnel to make necessary adjustments.”
Some surrounding districts, such as the El Paso Independent School District, have chosen to implement a hybrid model starting in October, combined with an all online option for those who request it. It’s something that frustrates Trujillo, especially when factoring in the differences between New Mexico and Texas reopening guidelines.
“It's very frustrating for me as an administrator, and I'm sure for you as parents and you as board members to watch the news every Friday night and see districts in El Paso coming back at different grade levels,” Trujillo said. “We have to follow the guidelines that are presented to us at our state level. We don't get Albuquerque news, so we don't see that, you know, we are one of many districts that are under these requirements. Albuquerque Public Schools has chosen to stay remote for the remainder of the semester.”
The National Education Association of Las Cruces agreed staying online was best for both teachers and students, stating they did not want any special groups back in the building. Chapter President Denise Sheehan voiced concerns for teachers and students.
“I know our teachers are eager to come back to the building, but we need to do so when is safe for both teachers and students. That’s including the training, [and] that's including all of these prevention protocols and procedures,” Sheehan said. “Overall, we really do believe that we're close, but we're not quite there yet.”