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Farmington schools set to return to in-person learning

Plans for Farmington students to return to classroom were postponed

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • The Farmington Municipal School District will welcome select pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students at its 10 elementary schools for four days a week starting on Oct. 13, after having its re-entry plans approved.
  • Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt told the community in a Sept. 3 letter that the district had met the social distancing requirements but had not planned for a new requirement limiting classroom occupancy to 50 percent of a teacher's roster.
  • The Bloomfield School District also postponed its plans for hybrid learning on Sept. 4, after it was unable to meet new requirements for staff and students' personal protection equipment.

FARMINGTON — Farmington Municipal School District elementary students seeking to return to the classroom will have a chance starting this month now that the district's re-entry plans are approved. 

The action comes as the Bloomfield School District initiated hybrid learning for select students on Sept. 28.

More:2 San Juan County school districts postpone in-person classes after last-minute state changes

Farmington's schools will welcome select pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students at its 10 elementary schools for four days a week starting on Oct. 13. The district was set to have those students return to the classroom on Sept. 8, but last-minute changes by the New Mexico Public Education Department prompted a delay.

Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt told the community in a Sept. 3 letter that the district had met the social distancing requirements but had not planned for a new requirement limiting classroom occupancy to 50 percent of a teacher's roster.

In order to adjust to the last-minute changes by the state, Farmington schools postponed the launch of in-person learning to at least Oct. 9, the end of the first nine weeks of school.

District making adjustments for back-to-school learning

Superintendent Schmidt told The Daily Times a lot of behind-the-scenes work was performed by district staff to get the new re-entry plans approved.

Nicole Lambson, district's executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said the district adjusted how it viewed a teacher's roster and broadened it after speaking to other districts in the state.

An empty playground is pictured, Friday, March 27, 2020, at Lydia Rippey Elementary School in Aztec.

"We realized that what we were failing to do was to recognize that every teacher on a grade level is a teacher of the students in that grade level," Nicole Lambson said.

Instead of saying one teacher has 24 students, Schmidt said all the students in a grade level are supported by all the teachers in that grade level, albeit virtually or in-person.

The district prioritized kindergarten through third-grade students because they are the most in need, followed by fourth and fifth-grade students, Lambson said.  

Seven of the 10 elementary schools are able to welcome students four days a week with Monday as a home instructional day.

Country Club, Ladera and Mesa Verde elementary schools will have upper-grades operating at a hybrid learning schedule with two groups of students spending two days each for in-person learning.

San Juan College officials have developed a plan under which the school will offer classes this fall in four ways.

The demand for students to return to those three schools was greater than could be allowed back due to the state's requirements, Lambson said.

"There's more kids in those three schools that their parents want them to be back in school then what we have at the other schools," Gene Schmidt said.

Deputy Superintendent Phil Valdez spoke about requirements for ventilation system upgrades and COVID-19 surveillance testing.

The state education department required schools to deploy MERV 13 filters or better in schools. Those filters are described as more effective in removing viral particles from the air.

Valdez said the district learned that as long as staff planned to replace all units, the re-entry plan would be approved. Some units were upgraded right away as the remaining replacements have been planned.

Five percent of school staff and faculty physically working in the schools have to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing with the goal of all staff being tested during the course of the school year.

Bloomfield schools

The Bloomfield School District also postponed its plans for hybrid learning on Sept. 4, after it was unable to meet new requirements for staff and students' personal protection equipment (PPE).

Those requirements included two multi-layer cloth masks per staff member and per student along with 20 medical masks (KN95, N95 and surgical) and a face shield for each staff member who has a "close contact assignment," according to the state.

Uncertainties lie ahead as school districts in New Mexico prepare for the new year

Reusable or disposable full-length gowns had to be procured as any employee working with conditions where PPE standards and social distancing are not guaranteed can request one.

One group of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday, then another on Thursday and Friday.

Bloomfield Superintendent Kim Mizell told The Daily Times on Sept. 28 the district was able to get all of the required PPE within two weeks and was seeing more demand for in-person learning from parents as they learned of that option.

"We are really happy to see the kids in school," Kim Mizell said.

She also complimented the teachers on how much work they put into preparing for in-person learning. 

Farmington Municipal Schools will offer both in-person and online-only learning options

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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