New Mexico Schools Varying Thresholds When Deciding to Go Remote After COVID Breakouts

Two of New Mexico's 89 school districts are shifting to remote learning prior to Thanksgiving break due to a rise in COVID-19 infections.

Santa Fe Public Schools will be remote starting Tuesday, the largest voluntary closure of K-12 schools this semester, according to the Associated Press.

In addition, Los Lunas Schools, a district near Albuquerque, canceled classes starting Monday, opting for a remote strategy for the two days before their Thanksgiving break.

The move from the two districts is one of the first examples of the new rule replacing the state's Public Education Department having control over school districts going remote. In previous semesters, schools with more than four tests were forced to switch to remote learning to reduce the spread of COVID.

However, as vaccines are approved for more age groups and are more readily available across the country, New Mexico's schools now hold the power to decide when to close their own doors following positive tests.

"This is a strategic move to decrease our active COVID positive numbers," said Los Lunas Schools superintendent Arsenio Romero. "We are aware that this can cause undue hardship for working parents."

A recent editorial by Santa Fe schools superintendent Hilario Chavez referenced a recent survey of the district's teachers. The survey found that the average cost of childcare for parents who worked as teachers was nearly $1,000 per month, and Chavez said in the editorial the district was in discussion with the state about the possibility of providing childcare for their teachers.

The closures also come as schools around the country are moving in various directions in terms of COVID response, from loosening or removing mask requirements to closing schools and moving back to remote learning.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

New Mexico, COVID, Schools
Two school districts in New Mexico have shifted to remote learning following positive COVID tests before their Thanksgiving breaks. A closet full of PPE material is part of the preparation for the return of in-person learning at Public School 143 on August 18, 2021, in Queens, New York. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

About 20 of the state's schools have reported sending children home due to virus outbreaks each month this year that included staffing shortages because of quarantines for teachers, according to voluntary notices submitted by schools to state education authorities.

There are schools elsewhere in New Mexico that have reported more COVID-19 infection cases than the school districts in Santa Fe and Los Lunas, according to data updated Friday from the New Mexico Environment Department.

But those other districts decided to maintain in-person learning. In Albuquerque, one school reported five positive tests and in Las Cruces, there are schools that have had six positive tests.

Neither district has canceled in-person learning or extended the Thanksgiving holiday.

When schools go online, parents including school staff have to scramble to find childcare.

Last year, many teachers struggled to teach online classes while trying to care for their own children at home simultaneously. Now in the fourth semester of the pandemic, some districts are starting to think about addressing the problem.

"We're in discussion with the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department on the possibility of the district providing child care for staff," Chavez wrote.