Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Ralph Ramos announced district mask requirements for the start of the 2021-22 school year, noting the district will continue to monitor state public health orders and make adjustments accordingly.
“All LCPS students and staff will be required to wear masks indoors during the school day and during afterschool, indoor events,” Ramos said.
Stephen Lopez, from the Office of Emergency Management, told the board his biggest concern is the rate at which COVID hospitalizations are growing across the state—increasing from fewer than 100 COVID patients to approximately 180 in the past two weeks.
Lopez says that while the vaccine is helping to keep the case count lower than the spring and symptoms mild, the Delta variant still poses a risk to the LCPS community.
“We are now seeing with the Delta variant, a large number of vaccinated people having what we call breakthrough cases,” Lopez said. “Fortunately, the vast majority of those are no symptoms or mild symptoms, but it does mean they have the potential to spread to others, even though they're fully vaccinated.”
Original proposed district guidelines did not require vaccinated middle and high school students to wear masks indoors, in accordance with guidelines from the New Mexico Public Education Department. Prior to the mask announcement, newly appointed LCPS Board Member Pamela Cort advocated for the district to make the mask requirement a uniform policy for every education level.
“It seems to me that we could just be proactive and require everyone to wear a mask, and do our part in our society, in our district, to slow the spread,” Cort said. “It makes it more equitable on a middle school and high school level, because then you know, there are just issues with those who are wearing masks and those who don't and [this] makes it easier for everyone.”
The new mask requirement does not extend to the outdoors—LCPS students will be allowed to go maskless for structured outdoor classes and activities such as during P.E.
One public commenter voiced concern about implementing a mask policy, questioning the effectiveness of masking elementary school children.
“I don't know if you've noticed any kids wearing masks, but they are constantly touching their face, and then they're touching everything else,” the commenter said. “They're taking their masks off, putting them on their wrist or putting them in their pockets, handling them with their hands and putting them back on. And then often not even washing their hands afterwards. This is not going to help stop the spread.”
LCPS Board President Ray Jaramillo called on district stakeholders to come together, saying that COVID safe practices are the best chance for uninterrupted education.
“I ask the community to come together as a community and attempt together so we can get our children back in school, whether that be getting a vaccination, which I encourage, or wearing your mask,” Jaramillo said. “This is no longer a political will anymore. We've gone beyond the political will…Let’s choose another time to argue about some other stuff, let’s really come together.”
LCPS Board Member Maria Flores stressed the importance of following state and federal guidelines, saying every member of the LCPS community must work together to keep students healthy.
“It’s about responsibility. Each of us is responsible in our own way of making sure that we are healthy, and that our students are healthy,” Flores said. “So, it starts at home, and then when that responsibility isn’t followed through it burdens the schools.”