LOS LUNAS — Los Lunas Schools, like many districts around the state, will stay in a remote learning model this semester.
However, the New Mexico Public Education Department said starting Jan. 19, certain groups of students can head back to the classroom — or practice — in some form.
With a presentation at a special board meeting last week, incoming superintendent Arsenio Romero, as well as acting superintendent Walter Gibson and assistant superintendent Brian Baca, outlined a calendar for getting some special education students back into the classroom as soon as Feb. 1 in 5:1 groups.
“Specifically, students that are some of our highest needs that can be categorized as autistic, can be categorized as medically fragile,” Romero said. “These are going to be classrooms where we feel it’s very important they have opportunity for in-person learning. … We want to do this very methodically, very purposefully and we want to ensure that those classrooms are going to be safe for both staff and students.”
Those students who fall under community enhanced learning will be spread across four different school sites in the district — Bosque Farms Elementary, Ann Parish Elementary, Desert View Elementary and Raymond Gabaldon Elementary.
Practices for sports can begin operating on Jan. 19, according to the district’s calendar. But practices for sports such as football will begin just two weeks prior to the Feb. 1 start date for the football season laid out by the New Mexico Activities Association.
On Feb. 15, cross country and volleyball will start their respective seasons. All other seasons begin in March or April. However, the actuality of sports seasons playing out hinges on the state’s decision.
Starting Jan. 25, the plan is to also bring in students who fall under special services back to school sites for in-person testing. Students who fall under special services include, “special education [students], students living with homelessness, students living in foster care,” among others, according to the district.
Romero said the calendar is flexible even with new health order’s that may come from the governor’s office. However, if the calendar stands as planned and Valencia County is no longer in the red zone, Romero said it may be possible to bring back K-5 students and more special education students for in-person learning.
“We want to be very purposeful about how we do that,” Romero said.
Gibson gave an update on school safety in which he spoke about some of the protocols followed in the district. There are protocols, such as signing in when you enter a building, wearing a mask and having a distance of 6-feet when next to someone else.
Other protocols include the sanitization of certain areas in the district as more students come back to the classroom and proper HVAC. These protocols have been in place since last semester, Gibson said. But with the possibility of students coming back, those protocols will need to be followed on a grander scale.
The district has put in a purchase request recently for HEPA filters that fit the district’s HVAC systems. Those filters will arrive before students are back for in-person learning, Gibson said.
“The guidelines for moving air inside of a building(s) require [MERV-13] air filters and we don’t have those nor will our air exchange systems except those, so we are having to go to an alternate system of HEPA filters,” Gibson said. “We will begin to install those HEPA filters in places where we will have students and staff.”
In PED’s reentry guidelines, MERV-13 filters are required for HVAC systems in schools. But “both options are acceptable for air quality remediation relative to COVID-19,” PED deputy communications director Judy Robinson said when asked by the News-Bulletin if those are PED approved filters.
Other protocols for starting up sports practices and bringing in small groups for in-person learning requires surveillance testing, Baca said. That began at the start of the new semester, and 10 percent of staff will be tested two weeks prior to when those services begin.
“It’s something that we are preparing for as we welcome and get to the next phase of getting people onto our campuses,” Baca said.
Romero mentioned the possibility of acquiring vaccinations for staff working onsite, but didn’t go into much detail about when that plan might be. He did, however, secure those vaccinations for his current district in Deming Public Schools.
“For example, you’ve seen there are some districts that have started to grow this out. Hobbs Municipal Schools have already started to roll out vaccines,” Romero said. “I’ve actually been able to secure vaccines for Deming Public Schools. I am at the beginning of those conversations for Los Lunas Schools and really all of Valencia County.”