LAPS Asst. Supt. Jennifer Guy/Photo Courtesy LAPS
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Public Schools has prepared a 14-page document called “FAQ for LAPS Secondary Learning Modes” which was shared as part of a presentation Tuesday by Asst. Supt. Jennifer Guy to local League of Women Voters members during their virtual monthly Lunch with a Leader event. The document may be viewed at https://docs.google.com/document/d/15lyzSIGJfQtJCYdfOrCl4QhNwx_rj56bQnEqxG7DuFY/edit
The Los Alamos School Board voted January 26 to move to extended in-person learning for secondary students. On Monday, Feb. 22, teachers will be back on campus and providing orientation for 7th and 9th grade students who have never been on campus this school year and will be allowed in small groups to get their schedules and see where their classes will be held.
On Monday, Mar. 1, Los Alamos High School and Los Alamos Middle School will move into what is being called Remote+, where they will be learning remotely from home in the morning and then will have the option of going to school for in-person services and some small group activities in cohorts in the afternoons.
“It will be completely optional. It will give those who would like to come back in person to do that,” Guy said, adding that there will be two cohort groups, one on Monday and Tuesday and the other on Thursday and Friday.
Guy said the expanded in-person learning was hard to get ready for. Public Education Department requirements, which regularly change, had to be met and inspections had to be conducted by PED and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
“The Los Alamos Fire Department conducted two inspections for us. What they were looking for were COVID-safe practices. When you go into the schools you will see that six feet of distance is marked off, we have hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and air filtration,” she said. “The good news is we passed inspection for all seven schools. LAFD said we were the gold standard and passed us with flying colors. We were excited about that. We also have received more guidance from the CDC. It keeps getting clearer and perhaps it’s just that we’re more educated about the process. “
Guy said it has certainly been challenging for LAPS.
“There’s lots of debate on social media about whether we should go back or not go back. It’s been a challenge to decide. I do feel confident that the model we finally have gotten to is our best chance of meeting diversity. We want to be as safe as possible. We want to make sure that we’re able to do this in a very controlled, slow manner but we feel we need to allow some of our students the opportunity to come back,” she said. “We have some secondary students as well as elementary students that just need an opportunity to be in-person. And those needs vary. There are a lot of students with social-emotional needs. There are some with just physical needs. There are a lot of different reasons. Just as we want to give everybody the opportunity to not come back, we want to start making some in-person learning available.”
Guy noted that COVID has been the most challenging thing professionally that she has seen education go through.
“There’s been some good – we’re going to take away some good things from it but it’s definitely hard. We are committed to meeting individual needs every time there’s a chance, with both staff and families, meeting one on one. We definitely have a large number of families that would like for us to be back full-time five days a week and while we understand that, we’re not able to do that at this time but we are able to take this next slow step,” she said.
Guy said the district’s commitments are to making sure that student, staff and community safety is the top priority always.
“We’re focusing on student well-being and student achievement. We need to figure out a way to maximize learning for all students and our remote instruction has improved remarkably especially since March. I think it will continue improving. Teachers are learning a whole new way of teaching. Students are learning new ways of interacting and we see a nice steady improvement which is good for everyone. We’re maximizing learning for everyone trying to get to that middle ground,” she said. “Our focus is finding what everybody needs. We know we can’t be perfect, but we feel like we have the flexibility to meet needs.”
Guy noted that some 391 students are enrolled in the Los Alamos Online Learning Academy this year for kindergarten through 12th grade.
“Those are students that from the beginning committed to learning full-time online for the full school year. We expected to have about 50 students, and ended up with almost 400. It is fully-staffed. It’s bigger than three of our elementary schools right now. We provided counselors and support staff. So it functions just like a regular school. It’s been so successful that we have decided that we will apply and we will keep it if we’re approved next year and all the years moving forward,” she said. “I have to admit, when I started I thought we could do a really good job with third through 6th grade, or third through 8th grade and that it would be hard with our little kids. One of the things we found with the online academy is that it has been really successful and some of our most successful kids have been some of those younger kids. We are definitely going to make it an option that’s available for families moving forward.”
Guy noted that the district is working closely with County Emergency Manager Beverley Simpson and the Department of Health on the issue of vaccination for district staff. She said the district is keeping track of all staff who have been vaccinated and that as of Tuesday, 256 or 39 percent of staff members had reported that they had received the vaccine. The district currently has some 750 employees; 336 of those are teachers, 110 are instructional assistants that works part-time or full-time assisting teachers and 58 are substitutes.
“We’re getting there – we’re making progress. We were given one allotment where we could give out codes that were specifically for the schools. We were able to do school nurses, staff who provide services for medically fragile students and teachers over 50 who have direct contact with high-risk students. Other than that first small allotment everybody else has gotten codes individually, but we’ve gotten a good percentage,” Guy said. “We know this is going to be hard and reopening is hard but we feel we’ve been successful at reopening the elementary schools. It feels good; you go to any of the five schools and it feels good. The kids are able to socially distance. They’re doing a good job with handwashing and wearing masks. We appeal to the community to keep giving us advice and work with us because it’s going to take all of us working together to get us reopened.”
As of Monday, 23 adults and 52 students have tested positive at LAPS since August 13, 2020, with 24 of those students listed as being from Los Alamos High School/Topper Freshman Academy, according to the LAPS website.