BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos School Board agenda for Tuesday’s meeting was amended Saturday to include a review of options for elementary school remote or hybrid learning considering current COVID-19 conditions.
Supt. Kurt Steinhaus told the Los Alamos Reporter Saturday evening that he asked for the change because of increasing COVID-19 infection rates in New Mexico and to give staff, students and parents a chance to talk about how best to keep everyone safe and learning in the best possible way.
Several parents contacted the Reporter earlier Saturday to voice concerns and dismay that there was nothing on Tuesday’s original agenda concerning the hybrid option that is slated to begin for LAPS elementary students Oct. 19. A conversation with Los Alamos Federation of School Employees president Whitney Holland revealed that the union group had written to the school board to share some of the input they have been receiving and request that the board further discuss the date for the return to the hybrid model.
The letter notes that the union prides itself on the honest and open communication it has with the board and District administration.
“Together, we have been able to work through a variety of issues and have always had the same goal – to do what is best for our staff and students. It is with this in mind that we come to you to share some of the conversations we have had with LAPS staff over the last few weeks, many of which have occurred this week as we watch the Covid-19 cases rapidly increase around the state,” the letter states. “We have heard from staff at every elementary site, ranging in positions from specials teachers to instructional assistants. The concerns brought to us have encompassed everything from teacher concerns about students remaining in the classroom for specials, to the continued disregard for safety protocols.”
It says that as the date approaches to return to in-person school, classrrom teachers have repeatedly asked the union, “How can they do this to us?”.
“And as we watch our state move back into what our Governor has called ‘uncontrolled virus spread’, our response is ‘we don’t know’. Quotes taken directly from the emails we have received include ‘they are in denial’, ‘people are struggling and this district only listens to parents. I am so disgusted’, and ‘how will I be able to deliver high-quality instruction if I spend the entire day in fear of myself, my family or my students getting sick?’,” the letter states. “We work with some of the most talented, thoughtful, and dedicated staff in the state, if not the country. Our staff feels they are unable to sustain working in an environment where their lives are jeopardized, their concerns are dismissed, and they are rethinking their career choices or looking into retiring early.”
The letter note that Page 6 of the LAPS Strategic Plan says that students benefit from high-quality teaching and staff excellence – “We value our incredible LAPS team of employees. Every staff member is appreciated.”
“The very first point under the question of ‘How Do We Address This Focus Area?’ reads: ‘Assure that staff feel safe in our school district.’ Continuing with the hybrid model on Oct. 19 is in direct conflict with the LAPS strategic plan. Your willingness to initially delay the start of in-person school and then further delay it when we weren’t ready, proved to us that you prioritize our community’s safety. But we have once again found ourselves at a crossroads and in front of us are no easy paths.,” the letter states.
The union members state that they are in agreement that in-person schooling is critical, not just for elementary students but for all students.
“But we must do everything in our power to keep our students, families, and staff members safe. When the date of Oct. 19 was initially set, we could not have anticipated that our state would be where it is today- with an average of 420 new cases over the past 5 days. It is for these reasons we ask the board to amend their agenda for the Oct. 13 meeting to include further discussions on the return to hybrid date. We ask that safety and wellbeing be the top priority of the Board while COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in our state. In the words of our Governor, “No one’s life is worth the risk”. Please continue to keep us safe,” the letter ends.
The newly-added agenda action item reads as follows: “Review of options for elementary school remote or hybrid learning considering current COVID-19 conditions.” Public comments for the meeting may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.