While schools are drawing plans on how to navigate learning during Covid-19, many educators, parents, and students have mixed feelings on how the school year should be handled.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said today that schools would delay in-person learning until “at least Sept. 7,” adding that schools have local discretion to start online classes as early as August.
Before her announcement, over 40% of school districts in the state had already made plans for or requested online-only classes.
Dana Salk-Scheler, who is an online math teacher and has a seventh grader at Edgewood Middle School described the situation as frustrating.
“[It’s] the not knowing and the uncertainty of everything,” she said. “When the students went online at the end of last year, I just felt like there wasn’t enough feedback. I’m a teacher myself so I can help my son. I knew if he was doing things right or wrong but for those kids who don’t have that support, it just it felt like we were kind of just left out on our own and that was not a good feeling.”
Alysia Jennings, mom to a second grader and a newborn, said she will homeschool her daughter because she doesn’t like how “experimental” the upcoming school year feels.
“I kind of feel like this is what this whole thing has been an experiment to see how the kids are going to react to it,” she said. “I want something that’s been like, tried and true. … I feel like it’s still so up in the air.”
Trey Smith, Principal of East Mountain High School, said that while schools were mandated to turn in their hybrid plans for the school year to the Public Education Department, he is expecting those plans to change.
East Mountain released a statement today about the changes.
“The Governor made clear in her press conference last week that if the virus is not better under control, she expects to have all schools start remotely. Since that is not happening, I fully expect the Governor to make that call any day now,” he said.
Jennings said she is also unsure of how educators are going to keep kids safe while at school.
“[My daughter is] a typical six-year-old,” she said. “She’s very touchy feely with her friends still, and they hug each other, and I feel like it would be really difficult for the teachers to keep the kids, especially her age and younger. … I just definitely would be concerned for her safety. I would be concerned for all the kid’s safety and all of the teachers as well. I don’t think they should be going back to school personally. I think it’s far too soon.”
When asked how teachers will keep their students safe, educators had different answers.
“Social distancing and mask wearing would be adopted to our student handbook,” Smith said. “If a student refused to wear a mask, they would be required to be entirely on the online learning path. If a student also refused to not keep distance, they would also be moved to the online learning path.”
He also said that teachers keeping students safe 100% percent of the time is the biggest hurdle the schools will face.
“[This] has not been adequately addressed by the Public Education Department,” he said. “Until we get these questions answered by the PED, I do not feel like it’s safe to enter even a hybrid model.”
Cindy Sims, superintendent for Estancia Municipal Schools, said that successful implementation would take cooperation from the students, staff, and parents.
“In order for school to continue in session, everyone must do their part to follow safety protocols,” she said. “The good thing is, as public spaces have been requiring masks for weeks now, students have been practicing wearing their masks and are becoming acclimated to this practice.”
Parents who are uncomfortable with masks are choosing the district’s online learning, she said. “When you want to be present, you do whatever it takes to make that happen, including following rules about social distancing and wearing your face mask/shield.”
Teresa Salazar, superintendent for the Moriarty-Edgewood School District, said that students want to be “good school citizens and protect their neighbors.”
She also said teachers work with students on routines and procedures for the first two weeks of every school year, and those routines will be reinforced throughout the school day.
“There will not be more than 15 students in a classroom,” she said. “Elementary classrooms have bathrooms and sinks in the room and part of the daily routines will be regular hand washing. Secondary schools will have hand sanitizer in each classroom and in high traffic areas.”
Salk-Scheler said that while the hybrid model isn’t the best model, it is the best schools can do right now.
“I have confidence in the school district that they have put a better plan together and last time it was very sudden, and I couldn’t imagine being a teacher in a school at that time,” she said. “I’m hopeful, I guess would be the way to put it that they have a better plan in place.”
Salk-Scheler’s son Daniel, a seventh grader at Edgewood Middle school, said he wants to go back to school for a couple reasons. “I would like to go back to school to see my friends,” he said. “But I also want to stay home so we’re safe from the Covid and not getting affected.”
Daniel said he was trying to play basketball this upcoming year and play in sports, and he wants to learn with his teachers. He also said he likes the half home and half at school method, but wants to go back to school completely.
Kyla McGrotha, a 10th grader at Moriarty High School, said she wants to see her friends as well.
“[The end of last school year] was kind of heartbreaking at first,” she said. “I mean, well, it was kind of okay, but then as the days went on it became heartbreaking because we just start to miss our friends and the people we used to hang out with, and it becomes your family, kind of.”
McGrotha also said staying home all the time would start to affect students mentally. “They want us to go to school like twice a week and then three days at home,” she said, adding, “We communicate the most at school when we’re with our friends. So, I think that it’s going to have a really big impact on us, and a lot of kids are going to end up depressed.”
McGrotha said she’s also worried the students won’t learn efficiently online.
Some parents also said they have concerns over online learning.
“Yes, I have internet access and yes I have laptops enough for all my kids,” Salk-Scheler said. “However, internet service out here is iffy at best, and when you put six, even four people on the same time, it’s tough. So even if you have everything, all the equipment, all the necessities, just the sheer numbers, internet access is tough.”
Jennings said some families might not have the means to buy computers or internet access for their kids, and if that’s the case, schools should help.
Educators said they have solutions for the lack of internet access or laptops.
“We have enough Chromebooks to check those out to the families who have indicated they need them,” Smith said. “The school is willing to purchase internet hot spots if that would benefit any of our students. We’re also awaiting guidance from PED if the school facility would be open to our most vulnerable students if we are completely remote.”
“Students will receive their homework during their day of instruction,” Sims said, adding that assignments will not be contingent on internet access. “Whatever students need to complete will be accessible on their laptops, or they will complete paper/pencil assignments.”
“All MESD students will be provided a Chromebook,” Salazar said. “The district will have hotspots available through an application process for qualifying families that don’t already have service.”
While educators have created these plans to keep students and teachers safe, they said they’re unsure what would happen if teachers did get sick.
“This is also unknown,” Smith said. “We generally struggle to find enough substitutes in normal times, so this would be difficult.”
Sims agreed that finding substitutes is an issue, as did Salazar.
“We will be utilizing our regular substitutes, but we have also built into staffs’ schedule time to help support other classroom teachers if needed,” Salazar said. “We can always use more substitutes on our list if anyone is interested contact us at 505-832-4471.”
While there is worry for Daniel’s safety at school, Salk-Scheler said the worry is not excessive.
“I go back and forth on that one,” she said. “We’re not supposed to have mass gatherings, and that’s a mass gathering no matter how you look at it. I do personally think that we need to get some sort of herd immunity going that the kids need to have some sort of exposure.”
McGrotha is also less on the worried side “because if people practice being safe and not getting too close, and keeping their distance, then it’ll be okay.”
Jennings said she is worried for her daughter’s safety and that is why she is homeschooling her this year.
“The reason why I decided to homeschool is one, I have another child at home whose immune system is not great to begin with,” she said. “My daughter has breathing issues; I have asthma and underlying issues.”
But despite everything, Jennings said she is “grateful” for this opportunity to spend with her kids.
“As much as she might hate it,” she said. “I know she wants to go back to school and she wants to do everything and get back to normal, I don’t know that we’re ever going to get back to completely how it was.”