Schools will be opening using a “hybrid” model, meaning both online and in-person attendance, according to plans released by the state June 23.

The Public Education Department (PED) released a School Re-entry Guidance document, containing recommendations for New Mexico’s schools as they begin their reopening plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

Included in the document is an outline of a “phased approach” to re-entry, principles and requirements for re-entry, COVID-19 safe operating categories and suggestions, and information about transportation, meals, high-risk populations, and more.

There are eight requirements for schools to follow in order to reopen.

To begin, all districts and schools across the state will operate strictly according to hybrid guidelines, meaning using both remote and in-person learning tools.

Districts and schools will follow the appropriate guidelines based on the designated safe re-entry category, according to the PED’s plan.

Schools must participate in a surveillance and rapid response testing program for all staff. Schools must adhere to physical distancing requirements of their designated category. Schools should avoid large group gatherings.

Face coverings will be required for all students and staff except while eating, drinking and exercising, with limited exceptions for students or staff who have medical reasons for not being able to wear a mask or face shield.

All staff must be screened on a daily basis, including a temperature check and review of potential symptoms.

All sites must work with state and local health officials to have a plan for contact tracing. While not required, this is also recommended for students.

For transportation, all staff and students must wear face shields or masks while on the bus. In addition, a maximum of two students may sit together on a bus seat.

Schools in the yellow category should take all reasonable steps to limit bus seats to one student to the best of their ability. Meals must be provided to students during in-person instruction and remote learning.

Individual schools and districts will create specific plans for continuous learning that are responsive to their community needs and circumstances.

In the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, school districts have started discussing their plans to reopen, as the document was released early this week.

“We received the guidance [June 23] and there was a clarifying phone call this morning [June 24], said East Mountain High School principal Trey Smith. “We will not be ready to announce our specific plans this week. But we are starting the process of soliciting staff, faculty, student, and family feedback for the various reopening models.”

He said the most likely model for East Mountain is to split classes into two cohorts. Group A would attend in-person 1 or 2 days per week, while Group B would attend in-person the other 1 or 2 days per week.

When not on campus, students would be expected to engage with online learning daily. Students would also have the option to take classes entirely online.

Smith added that the school plans to have a “more in-depth” approach after seeking input from stakeholders. “Additionally, we would like our hybrid model to complement the other schools in our area since many of our students will have siblings in these other schools. We would also like to form a rapid communication channel with the other area schools to inform other school administrations when a COVID positive case is found in any of our schools,” he said.

Jennifer Mock, principal of Estancia Valley Classical Academy, said schools have been waiting for state guidance “for a while,” and that they received the news Tuesday, as well and had a clarifying meeting on Thursday, which left her with questions that have yet to be answered.

“All schools have to start as a hybrid model. We will do what we have to do to get our kids back to school,” she said.

In a group statement, the Estancia School District, Moriarty-Edgewood School District, and Mountainair Public Schools released the following:

“Over the past weeks plans for disinfection of school buildings, student access to technology, and instructional plans have been drafted. With the release of the NMPED re-entry guidance, each district will be finalizing these plans specific for our unique school districts taking into consideration the number of students and resources available. Parent and staff input is critical, so it will take a few weeks to obtain input and feedback as these specific plans are developed. All three districts are creating plans following the NMPED Guidance prioritizing safety, and student learning and social-emotional well-being. School may look a little different as we start the year, but we will be ready to provide your student with a safe, healthy environment. Please watch the district websites and Facebook pages for updates in your district, and make sure to contact district personnel should you have any questions or concerns about the re-entry plan. All three districts will be offering a 100% on-line option for families who prefer to continue school through a distance learning option in the coming year.”

The Independent will be following the schools for updates in the coming weeks.