Public Education Department: Schools May Remain In Current Learning Mode


No mandatory school closings under new public health order

New Mexico’s K-12 public schools may remain in their current learning mode with strict COVID-safe practices in place despite a new public health order reinstating heightened restrictions on activities amid an alarming surge in cases of the deadly virus. 

No schools or districts currently in the remote learning mode will be able to move to the hybrid mode for the duration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’ new public health order, which takes effect Monday and runs through Nov. 30. However, districts and charter schools already in the hybrid mode — with students coming in for in-person learning two days a week — may continue in that mode but with heightened transparency about school-based cases.

Effective Wednesday, the public may now check the New Mexico Environment Department’s COVID-19 Watchlist to learn of schools that have had at least two Rapid Response protocols in the last 14 days. If the number of Rapid Responses reaches four in a 14-day period, the building must close and the school must move to the remote learning model.

“This is an extremely critical time in the course of the pandemic, and the plan the governor announced today is the best and safest option for keeping schools open for kids,” said Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart. “We are asking New Mexicans to make sacrifices, as they did last spring, in order to maximize opportunities for in-person learning. In other words, when you stay home, you’re making it possible for our kids to go to school.”

A Rapid Response is a series of interventions designed to prevent COVID-19 spread, beginning when the New Mexico Department of Health notifies a school that an employee or student has a confirmed positive case and was on campus/in the facility during the infectious period. 

If a facility, school or institution tests multiple staff members or students within a day of notification of a positive case, all the positive results would be counted as a single rapid response.

“We want to encourage our schools to be proactive and conduct as many tests as rapidly as possible,” Stewart said. “That’s the best strategy we have for finding where the virus is and preventing its spread.”

The COVID-19 Watchlist is meant to ensure timely and transparent public notification so individuals can make informed decisions about their daily routines and engagements. Additionally, it helps state and local regulatory agencies evaluate whether employers are complying with state public health orders and COVID-safe practices. 

For K-12 schools under PED jurisdiction, only the individual school that reached the four-in-14 threshold would be required to return to remote learning. That means a school district could have one school closed for in-person learning,  another on the Watchlist, and others with no impact. 

Some local school boards and governing bodies — while not required to do so —  decided this week to return to remote learning through the end of the year. That includes two of the state’s largest — Santa Fe and Rio Rancho.