BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos Public Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday evening that LAPS pause hybrid learning beginning Monday, Nov. 30 for elementary schools with an anticipated date for return to the hybrid model on Jan. 19, 2021, subject to review of conditions and criteria and approval of the state. During that time, students will proceed with remote learning.
Earlier in the meeting Supt. Kurt Steinhaus presented five slides showing the effects the governor’s 14-day quarantine regulations on staff attendance on anticipated staff availability between the Thanksgiving holiday and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in January.
The slides showed the results of surveys completed by staff and parents which yielded the following data:
During the Thanksgiving Break, are you planning any out-of-state travel or are you hosting any out-of-state guests/family in your home that will require your child to quarantine?
79 percent – no
14.2 percent – yes
6.5 percent unknown
During the Winter Break from Dec. 21 – Jan. 6, are you planning any out-of-state travel or are you hosting any out-of-state guests/family in your home that will require your child to quarantine?
24.5 percent – no
20.4 percent – yes
24.5 percent – unknown
Are you planning any in-state travel over the next two months that may result in a quarantine for any of your children?
69.1 percent – no
15.1 percent – yes
15.8 percent – unknown
The surveys conducted with elementary schools by principals contacting their staff showed the percentages of staff absences projected from Nov. 23 – Dec. 18 due to the governor’s 14-day quarantine order:
Aspen – 60 percent
Barranca – 27 percent
Chamisa – 61 percent
Mountain – 26 percent
Pinon – 10 percent
Steinhaus told the board the data with the most impact related to the shortage of substitute teachers available. He noted that pre-COVID there were 121 active substitutes with that number dropping to 51 in August. As of November 5, he said there were only 38 active substitutes.
“Of the 38 active substitutes, 10 will only commit to remote sub duties, 7 will be traveling over both breaks, and 5 are considering travel over both breaks,” Steinhaus said. “That’s important data for us to consider as we think about this very complicated machine – that’s what schools are. There are lots of variables and lots of moving parts. This is not the only data we’re considering but I thought it would be important for you to hear that.”
Board member Steve Boerigter said it was a bit to what fraction of teachers would likely be available.
“I’d say the comment I have mostly with regard to the subs, is I recall when we created our criteria to go into hybrid, availability of substitutes was on the checklist. In light, of openness, do we believe that we are failing to meet that criteria?” he asked and Steinhaus answered, “Yes”.
Board member Dawn Jalbert asked if there was a contingency plan in place or under development for substitutes. Steinhaus responded that the only option is if instructional assistants can help “and that does not solve the problem”.
Board President Ellen Ben-Naim said she wanted to address the elephant in the room which she said is the rising COVID-19 numbers. She said although the board made a commitment to stick to the criteria and follow what the governor allow, the rapidly escalating number are on her mind. She asked Steinhaus for his recommendation.
“Based on the review of the data, listening to comments from our teachers, principals and parents across the community and facing the reality of where we are as a district, my recommendation as of tonight is that we do a pause. We don’t stop hybrid – we pause hybrid from the Monday after Thanksgiving until probably the Tuesday after Martin Luther King holiday,” Steinhaus said. “That would give us a date to plan for and we’ll follow the COVID numbers and see if that really does play out. That’s about 14 days after the winter break would be over and that would give us a chance to work back with you all to see if it’s safe for us to come back to hybrid. That would also give our teachers, our principals, our parents some time to do some brainstorming about the ideas we heard tonight – we heard some really good ideas to try to address some of the concerns – but also keep the successes of the hybrid.
There was some discussion of whether choosing the exact dates of the pause would be decided by the board or by administration. Board member Christine Bernstein suggested giving teachers the Friday before Thanksgiving to plan and readjust to the changeover from hybrid to remote learning and Jalbert agreed that would be a good idea.
Boerigter noted that he is saddened that the situation is where it is but that it is outside the board’s control and that it is important to appreciate that.
“It is outside of our control that there is the larger community spread of the coronavirus which is one of the driving factors. It probably is undoubtedly is the underlying driving factor associated with the lack of substitute teachers. We agreed upon and created a set of criteria and we recognized the availability of substitute teachers was part of that criteria, so that fits into the mix as does the availability of our core teachers connected to the governor’s quarantine order,” he said.
Boerigter said he thought the key question in front of the board frankly was whether the pause in hybrid learning would begin before or after the Thanksgiving break.
“I believe that the Superintendent has done his work and knows better about the issues associated with changing the model and the input from the teachers through the leadership team at the schools – knows better than I do – so if given a choice will choose the recommendation of the Superintendent to pause hybrid learning,” he said.
Board member Melanie Colgan said she feels the situation is unfortunate especially after hearing from five teachers earlier in the meeting how well so many children are doing in hybrid currently.
“But it’s a matter of the criteria that we set up. We simply do not have enough substitute teachers to make hybrid a viable situation and that is very unfortunate,” Colgan said.
With regard to the option of starting the pause on the Friday before Thanksgiving, Steinhaus said state law mandates teaching 180 days a year.
“If we don’t teach on that Friday then we need to add another day at the end of the school year or some other time. We don’t have the flexibility to just not do school. It’s not our option. I love the idea of giving an extra planning day for teachers. I’m not sure I know how to do that because of the state law,” he said.
When Bernstein pushed the idea of using some of the snow days in the schools calendar for teacher planning time, Steinhaus said he didn’t want to be put in a position of not supporting the teachers.
“I want to support our teachers as badly as anybody does and I feel really strongly about that. And to be put in a position where I’m not supporting teachers is just plain, not fair. That’s not my job and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to do every single thing I possibly can to support teachers. It sounds like it’s being set up in a way that the calendar that’s being proposed is not supportive of teachers and I don’t feel that way about it and I would hope that the board would not position the schools in a way that it’s that opposition because that’s not why we’re here,” he said.
President Ben-Naim said she was sure there is 100 percent consensus on the board and among people on the Zoom call that “supporting our teachers is the highest value to all of us”.
There were more than 220 attendees on the Zoom call which at time experienced sound issues. Four board members and some administrative and teaching staff were present in the LAPS board room. At times, Zoom attendees and the fourth board member voiced concern about the inability to hear the proceedings.