Updated: September 05, 2020 10:35 PM
Created: September 05, 2020 10:32 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico students can return to in-person learning after Labor Day if their district and state officials say it’s OK, however the number of students allowed in the building depends on if it’s a public school or private school.
Under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health order, public schools can reopen at 50 percent capacity, but private schools are limited to 25 percent.
When asked about the discrepancy, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said it’s because the state considers private schools to operate much like retail businesses.
"When we've talked about public schools versus private schools the core data around safety reopening, in general, I think, is the gating criteria as Dr. Scrase has laid out to make sure that the public health conditions are ripe,” Stewart Said.
Stewart said another reason officials are letting public schools reopen at a higher capacity is because they can oversee them.
"There’s always been oversight difference between the public and the private schools with the private schools falling more into that bucket similar to some of the other businesses,” he added.
Despite the Public Education Department’s oversight, several public schools have seen teachers or staff test positive for COVID-19. When asked about those cases, a spokesperson for PED referred KOB back to Stewart’s previous statements.
In the meantime, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said increasing schools’ capacity would depend on the rate of spread.
She sent KOB 4 the following statement:
"The state's guidelines for a hybrid learning model for elementary-age students in public schools include a 50 percent maximum of students in a classroom because the state has oversight of public schools that can assure additional essential public health and safety restrictions are in place. Those are available for your review here? and will be useful context to include for your viewers."
The Public Education Department does not have similar oversight of private schools to ensure students' safety there, which is partly why the emergency public health order stipulates a 25 percent maximum for those entities.
As is the case with other occupancy restrictions, this is subject to change depending on the ability to which New Mexicans are able to keep the spread of COVID-19 low, but any increase to school capacity would be dependent on a significant reduction in COVID-19 spread and thus the risk to students and educators in those buildings.
No matter public or private, in-person schooling during a pandemic should only take place when every single public health precaution is taken to ensure the well-being of students, families, educators and other school staff.
As of Thursday, the Public Education Department said there are 50 public school districts and two dozen charter schools that have been approved to move elementary students into hybrid learning.
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