NMPED toolkit puts local school districts in a bind for upcoming school year

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The state’s Public Education Department released the much anticipated guideline toolkit for local schools this upcoming year – but with it comes new challenges for districts and a short amount of time to overcome them.

“We finally got the toolkit we’ve been looking for, the toolkit since the first of the summer and we finally got it," said RRPS Superintendent Dr. Sue Cleveland.

Just days before metro students and teachers return to classrooms, more than 20 pages of COVID rules for the new year dropped on superintendents’ desks Monday.

For elementary schools:

All students, staff and volunteers will have to wear masks indoors and on school buses. No one will have to wear a mask outside.

For middle and high schools:

Students, staff, and volunteers who are fully vaccinated, and provide that documentation, do not have to wear masks indoors.

Anyone unvaccinated will have to mask up, along with those who don’t want to provide their vaccine documentation. Schools will also have to build a system to identify those verified as fully vaccinated.

Some of the biggest districts have just days to come up with a plan to implement all these guidelines.

First, districts have to come up with a system for families or teachers to provide those vaccination documents. Then students will have to visibly show – at all times – they’re fully vaccinated so they don’t have to wear masks.

“It’s a little bit frustrating that we’re opening in a week and got the toolkit at noon today. But we do have it, we are glad to have it," Cleveland said.

Districts will also have to adopt and enforce these rules, or just require masks for everyone. But keep in mind, all these guidelines could change – if the state keeps seeing spikes in COVID cases.

Cleveland said she worries it could put them in a tough spot in proving who has been vaccinated, as well as privacy concerns.

“The biggest concern we do have is the enforcement of that and what that will look like and one of the things the toolkit said is ‘evidence of vaccination must be visible at all times’ so I’m trying to figure out what that would look like,” she said. “Concerns over privacy as well as trying to meet this mandate and those seem to be polar opposites at, so that’s something that were going to have to look at, and also our hope is our staff especially our teachers who spend their time teaching rather that policing masks."

The district said a "good number" of families switched to remote learning because of those guidelines released Monday.

The Rio Rancho Public School’s attorneys said the guidelines are safe to enforce. But there are concerns about money as students stay at home.

A NMPED representative said if a student were to test positive, full classes won’t be asked to quarantine anymore.

Plastic barriers, or tape will not be required and kids can also share gym equipment.