BY JENNIFER GUY
Los Alamos Public Schools
After careful consideration of the costs and benefits associated with returning to school, we have made the decision for all of the Los Alamos Public Schools to return to providing in person instruction on Monday, January 24. We want to emphasize that the health and safety of staff and students continues to be the number one priority,
This was a difficult decision. We carefully considered a number of factors, including trends in infections, the risks of in-school spread of the virus, and the many individual and societal costs of having children at home instead of at school and learning remotely instead of in the classroom. We recognize that cases are surging in our community. However, we also recognize that many students need to return to in-person learning as soon as possible. We have decided to return to campuses so that our services are available and with the hope that ten days of remote learning was enough to reduce transmission of the virus.
In making this decision, we consulted with local public health experts, administrators, nurses, teachers, the union, and other staff. Nurses carefully reviewed all reported cases. Staff are tracking when quarantine and isolation times end for both students and staff. Although we know we will have more cases, we are committed to keeping our school environments as safe as possible.
We understand that each family has different needs and comfort levels with COVID-19. We will make remote learning options available for families that prefer to keep their students home for two more weeks. If you would like to keep your students home, please contact your school principal. The schools will provide you with more information about a plan for your child to continue to learn remotely.
Given the number of new infections in the community, I want to provide below some additional comments on the approach we are taking to reopening schools and the efforts we are making to keep schools as safe as possible.
With the present surge in infections in mind, we are strengthening a number of our mitigation efforts, as noted below.
• The quality of masks matters and we are providing our staff with KN95 masks.
• Ventilation is critically important and, as an adjunct to our enhanced ventilation measures we ordered in December HEPA-based air filters for our classrooms. Our purchase (with county funds) is consistent with NMPED guidelines and based on the best available evidence that such filters can further reduce risk of viral transmission in the classroom. There are supply constraints throughout the economy, but we are pushing to get the air purifiers as fast as possible.
Testing is central both to knowing who is infected and to keeping our children in school when exposed to infection. Given the terrible constraints on the availability of tests, we must focus our LAPS testing on the “test to stay” program that helps keep staff and students in school. However, we strongly encourage anyone who is symptomatic to take advantage of the PCR testing available in our county. We wish there was enough rapid antigen testing to test all of our students before the return to school. However, there is not. Thus, if you have home tests, it could help facilitate a safe return to school if you test your child just before the return to school, in accordance with the test instructions. . We also continue to ask you not to send children to school if they are ill or have any symptoms of COVID. If your child tests positive for Covid please report this information to the school nurse.
• In light of the increasing number of cases in our community, we also ask that you not send your child to school if there is a positive case in the household, regardless of vaccine status. Such absences will be excused.
• We have also asked a number of members of the Los Alamos County Health Council with significant experience in public health, epidemiology, and public policy to join our LAPS COVID team meetings. They will provide us on a regular basis with advice that can assist us in moving as close as possible to best practice in mitigation efforts and in communicating about COVID with the community.
• To more effectively and efficiently answer your questions on the LAPS and COVID-19, we will issue shortly and then update regularly a document with Frequently Asked Questions,
• We have also hired additional nurses to support our mitigation program. We are also recruiting an additional nurse. If you know someone interested, please encourage them to apply for our position here.
We appreciate the enormous strains that COVID puts on the community. We will continue to monitor case counts in our county and our schools. I want to assure you again that we will do all we can to provide the maximum possible safe in-school learning opportunities to our children.