PUBLIC EDUCATION DEPARTMENT NEWS
More than 65,000 additional New Mexico children were back in the classroom in the week ending April 10, five days after all districts were expected to return to full reentry.
The Public Education Department announced March 8 that all schools were expected to move to full reentry no later than April 5 because, with protocols now in place to limit spread of the virus, it is now safe to provide students with improved educational opportunities and supports. Additionally, expanding surveillance testing to include student volunteers will help identify positive cases sooner.
Based on data reported to the Public Education Department, with 79 percent of all districts and charter schools reporting:
- 149,000 out of 317,000 children (47%) were in classrooms last week, up from 83,600 (26%) a week earlier.
- 35,200 out of 51,000 school staff (69%) were in buildings, up from 33,600 (66%) a week earlier.
- About 82,000 students remained in remote learning, down from 107,000 the week before.
Schools reported 108 infectious-on-campus cases for the week, an increase fueled by 81 student cases (up from 33 the week prior), likely due to return to full reentry and schools coming back from spring break. Staff cases rose only slightly — to 27 from 24 the week previous. The week’s total was still down 63% from a high of 815 the week ending Dec. 5.
“While we would love to see nothing but declines in COVID rates, this increase was not unexpected given the return of most students and staff to schools, and these numbers are still substantially below what we saw last fall,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely to make sure all safety protocols are enforced — including returning schools to remote-only instruction if case numbers exceed New Mexico’s conservative threshold.”
Based on reports to PED, in most new cases, students were infected elsewhere and brought the virus with them to school rather than catching it at school. Protocols that quickly identify such cases and isolate close contacts are designed to keep the transmission risk as low as possible.
Four schools returned to remote learning this week — one by mandate and three voluntarily.
- Eldorado High in Albuquerque began a mandatory 14-day closure Tuesday after reaching the state’s threshold of four Rapid Responses in 14 days;
- Socorro High closed voluntarily on Wednesday after seven students tested positive;
- Mesa Alta Junior High in Bloomfield closed voluntarily on Wednesday after enough unvaccinated staff members were exposed to an infected student to leave the school under-staffed;
- Central Primary in Bloomfield closed voluntarily on Wednesday because most students were close contacts to a positive case and had to quarantine for 10 days.
“These superintendents, in an abundance of caution, closed buildings where it appeared the virus could spread. They did exactly what we expect to happen to keep as many students in classrooms as we safely can. Closures — whether required or voluntary — are part of the system of protocols that made full reentry possible,” Stewart said.
All of New Mexico’s nearly 51,000 K-12 educators and school staff have been offered the vaccine.
Until recently, the Department of Health vaccine registry did not distinguish between pre-K, K-12 and higher education so a precise count of K-12 educators who have been vaccinated is not available. However, about 55,700 (84%) of the nearly 66,000 pre-K through college educators in the registry have received at least one shot, and more than 45,000 (68%) are fully vaccinated. Additionally, the districts and state charter schools reporting to the Public Education Department for the week ending April 10 indicated 14,354 staff members were fully vaccinated.
Surveillance testing of unvaccinated, asymptomatic school staff will continue until all school staff are fully vaccinated. For the week ending April 10, 4,432 on-site school staff members (21.9%) participated in surveillance testing. The positivity rate for staff surveillance testing increased to .14% from .08% the week before, still well under the state’s threshold of 5%.
The Public Education Department has asked every district and state charter school to develop and implement a voluntary student testing program no later than April 26, with a goal of testing 1% of the general student population weekly and 10% of student athletes. The proactive program is intended to further improve school and community safety by identifying and responding to asymptomatic cases.
Eldorado High School in Albuquerque returned to remote instruction on Tuesday after reaching New Mexico’s conservative threshold of four Rapid Responses in a 14-day period. It was the first New Mexico public school to reach that threshold, which requires a 14-day return to remote instruction. In-person classes will resume April 27.
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. Read the complete COVID-19 Rapid Response Watchlist here.
Only the individual school that reaches the four-in-14 threshold is required to return to remote learning. Other schools in the same district are not impacted.
In the week ending April 9, 10 school facilities appeared on the Environment Department’s Watchlist, signifying they had at least two Rapid Responses within a 14-day period. Those school buildings are:
- Alamogordo High
- Chaparral Middle
- Cibola High
- Eldorado High
- Immanuel Lutheran School
- Petroglyph Elementary
- Country Club Elementary
- Vista Grande Elementary
- Santa Fe High
- Nizhoni Elementary