LAPS Board President Ellen Ben-Naim
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
Ellen Ben-Naim, president of the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) Board and program manager of First Born, spoke to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos Aug. 4 via Zoom regarding the current plans and preparations being made for the 2020-2021 school year.
With the unexpected and immediate closure of all New Mexico public schools in mid-March due to the Covid-19 crisis, LAPS has been working diligently to establish best accommodations for student safety and education through the District’s Safe Start Task Force. Three options that have been explored are: all in-person classes; a hybrid model of staggered in-person classes with at-home online study; and fully remote online classes.
Concerns about the availability of sufficient and obtainable supplies of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies played a significant role in the District’s mid-July decision that it would not be safe for children to attend any in-person classes at the beginning of the school year. Another concern was about capacity for Covid-19 testing and contact tracing. Instead, LAPS has chosen to deliver all instruction online at least through Labor Day. The State of New Mexico arrived at the same decision at the end of July.
As Ben-Naim explained, March challenges found the District in crisis response and facing uncertainty. Attendance was not taken as classes moved online, instruction was spent in review sessions only as per State mandate, and education was struggling, just trying to survive while addressing one obstacle after another. Ben-Naim described LAPS employees as “scrambling.” As the school year begins later this month, plans are now in place with social and emotional supports for students, high-quality education with good health practices is foremost, and technology has been integrated more fully into teacher-led instruction. Attendance will be taken once again, new material will be presented, and assessments will be scheduled as education thrives.
Ben-Naim stressed that State mandates will be followed as decisions are made. Although the Los Alamos school district can be more restrictive than the State of New Mexico requires, it cannot be less restrictive. LAPS will provide a new full-year Online Academy for those families who prefer to keep their students from returning to a classroom setting; there are also options available for pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten students who will be able to meet in groups of no more than five. Accommodations will also be made for students with Special Education needs that can only be met with face to face instruction.
Newly-incurred expenses prompted by Covid-19 include huge orders of PPE, teacher training for providing online instruction, and increased cleaning and sanitation supplies as well new software and other technology expenses. These significant new expenses coincide with budget cuts from the Public Education Department. Those wishing to help offset these costs are encouraged to contact the LAPS Foundation, lapsfoundation.com; 505-500-6501.
Parents and other members of the community who are interested in preparing meals for harried teachers and instructional assistants, many of whom have their own children at home to supervise, or those interested in tutoring online, are asked to contact the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board (JJAB), who is working in partnership with LAPS. JJAB may be reached at 505-709-8125. Tutoring will be conducted with materials supplied to the student and then to the tutor. LAPS and JJAB are also partnering to establish very small pods of children whose parents may be interested in shared child supervision.
Ben-Naim has held numerous positions in local service and education institutions and was the program coordinator of JJAB for four years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a Master’s Degree from Brandeis University.