School districts around the county brace for the likelihood of an extended school closure
FARMINGTON — School administrators across San Juan County are bracing for the likelihood that school closures mandated to help stop the spread of the coronavirus will be extended past April 6, the date originally set to reopen campuses.
“We’re going to plan forward to make sure things are in place and that things may not be open on the 6th," Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said, “I’m not sure if we’re optimistic that they will be.”
Carpenter said he and district teachers were currently brainstorming ways to keep the educational process going through distance education. It's difficult to do that because Aztec Municipal School District does not provide computers to students, and many students might not have their own personal or family computer and internet access.
Carpenter said teachers are developing lesson plans for their students, with the possibility that the district would either hand out paper classwork packets at free meal distribution sites or load them into USB memory sticks for students to take home.
Teachers will also start calling their students and administering a district-wide survey to see what kinds of technology students have reliable access to.
"Grading is not the main thing, keeping learning going is the main thing,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said a secondary feature of the call is that it will act as a welfare check so teachers can see how their students are doing during the school closure.
“We’re trying not to let big educational gaps go forward,” Carpenter said.
The New Mexico Public Education Department is engaged in ongoing discussions about how to provide needed educational materials, technology and resources to different school districts of varying wealth and resources across the state.
"Equity doesn’t mean there’s a one size fits all solution," said Nancy Martira, the department's director of communications.
Martira said the department itself would make an announcement soon about whether or not to extend the school closures. In the meantime, they're in constant contact with school districts across the state, asking them what additional support they need.
Martira said the department is discussing the possibility of procuring Chromebooks for school districts, or WiFi hotspots for students with computers but without reliable internet access, but that the bureaucratic process of procuring those resources is difficult.
Martira said the department is also working with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to increase funding for schools and provide more educational resources at both the state and federal level.
Martira said that the department is also looking at working with public TV and radio broadcasters in the state to broadcast educational programs for students who don't have internet access, or a computer, but do have access to a TV or a radio.
“We’re looking for all kinds of solutions,” Martira said.
Farmington Municipal Schools Spokesperson Renee Lucero said that teachers in the district have been “putting in an hour every day in case this does go longer than April 6,” and that they have been "forecasting" that the school closure will extended beyond April 6.
Central Consolidated School District Spokesperson Roberto Taboada said CCSD is considering printing out classwork packets for students and distributing them at the district's free meal distribution sites, but that the district does not have any firm plans yet.
Bloomfield School District Superintendent Kim Mizell said Bloomfield schools may also distribute paper packets at meal sites, but that she is cautious because of the possibility of both students, teachers, and others who might collect or handle the packets possibly exposing themselves and each other to the coronavirus.
Mizell said the district will look into buying WiFi hotspots for students who need them to access the internet, but that a lot of the educational material available online involves watching videos, which eats up a lot of data.
"My biggest concern is, is it equitable? Can we get this to all kids. I don’t know. But you have to think that something is better than nothing,” Mizell said, "But I think we’re just going to have to think differently about how we provide education."
Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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