RRPS officials discuss roadblocks for reopening schools

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The governor’s recent announcement that all school districts can reopen for hybrid learning this month came as exciting news for many, however getting students and teachers back to the classroom will be no easy feat.

The Rio Rancho School Board met Monday to discuss the details for reopening.

“Truly everyone is working as fast as they can to pull things together,” said Dr. Sue Cleveland, superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Every school district must have their reopening plan approved by the State Public Education Department.

“It raised expectations, unfortunately, without people really understanding what needed to be done. One of the things that are really going to be a factor in this is there’s 89 school districts and all of those need to be done. We’ve been told it may not happen when you want it.” Dr. Cleveland said.

Rio Rancho district officials said they’re facing multiple hurdles. For example, the district does not have enough substitute teachers and is down dozens of custodians.

“It is just so much harder to create true cohorts than elementary schools. Elementary schools you have a class. That class stays with the teacher most of the day. They go out for specials or for other things, but basically they’re together all day long,” Dr. Cleveland said.

One confirmed COVID-19 case could affect an entire grade level. There also needs to be 25% staff surveillance testing each week.

“Teachers love children. That’s why we do this. We want to be with our kids. I love being in the classroom. With my students I love it so much, but at what cost,” said Billie Helean, president of the Rio Rancho School Employees Union.

PED officials said they’re meeting with superintendents across the state weekly.

According to a spokesperson, they just finished putting together close contact kits for every district and charter in the state. The kits will include medical gowns, masks and gloves.

KOB 4 asked the PED about the pressure districts are feeling to reopen. A spokesperson sent the following statement:

"Nothing in the plan requires a district or school to expand in-person learning by Feb. 8 – or any other date. We simply removed a significant roadblock to their doing so."

For teachers around the state, another big roadblock is the COVID vaccine.

“Right now we have asked is there any timeline for vaccination of educators that is currently available, and we were told no,” Dr. Cleveland said. “There’s not a date that’s been set and there’s no date to share as of this point.”

When asked if the PED is fighting to get teachers vaccinates sooner, a PED spokesperson said they’re actively promoting the vaccine registration portal.

Many districts are considering a soft entry approach by Feb. 22.