As in-person special education classes get going at LCPS, they are suspended again

Miranda Cyr
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES - Las Cruces Public Schools will suspend in-person classes for the duration of New Mexico's shelter-in-place, which begins Monday and lasts for two weeks.

The decision affects 23 special education students, who were in small groups at Picacho Middle, Vista Middle, Sunrise Elementary, Conlee Elementary and Centennial High.

The Sun-News spoke to a teacher and administrator at Picacho Middle School before the suspension was announced. Each praised the initiative to help get students in special education much-needed face-to-face instruction.

"These are kids who really do struggle to sit and learn in front of a computer, they struggle to learn online, they're some of our kids that have severe disabilities," said Picacho Principal Fred Montalvo.

Others are reading:COVID-19 in New Mexico: Governor resumes partial shutdown, shelter-in-place order for two weeks

As part of the in-person instruction, teacher Morgan Harding took her four students to the banks of the Rio Grande recently for a scavenger hunt to find leaves, footprints and other materials.

"It was so nice to be around the students and to be outside and just seeing their excitement in a way that I can't explain," she said.

It was the first field trip Harding had taken her students on in months since Picacho, where she teaches special education in the Life Skills program, and all other school buildings in New Mexico were shut down in March as a way to mitigate the spread of the SARS CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Picacho was the first school in the district to reopen Oct. 19, but shut down days later after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. The school reopened Nov. 5 and so far has not recorded any additional positive cases.

The amount of small group special education classes within the district was expected to grow, but now all five schools that offered in-person instruction are closing for two weeks.

Read more:New Mexico lawmakers hear from experts on child well being

A news release from the New Mexico Public Education Department stated the shelter-in-place order was not meant to affect schools' in-person learning models.

“There were no specific provisions for our schools,” said LCPS Superintendent Karen Trujillo in a news release. “But we know what we have to do. Our part in this emergency is to stay vigilant and limit the activity in our buildings to keep our students and staff safe to the greatest extent possible.” 

LCPS is also suspending athletic programs and student organizations.

Get more local and statewide news: Subscribe today.

Important instruction

Montalvo said several of the students had expressed true joy in returning to the school and being able to see a few of their peers and some of their favorite staff members.

At Picacho, the initiative had brought in eight students, two special education teachers and four educational assistants on different days to reduce the number of people that interact with one another directly.

Three students got face-to-face instruction for a half day on Monday and Tuesday, two of which were in the morning and another came in for the afternoon. Four more students came in on Thursday and Friday, according to Harding.

Harding said the experience was bringing her closer to the parents of her students, keeping in close communication with them daily. She said she's never felt more appreciated as a teacher.

Morgan Harding and Tammy Gonzales, two special education teachers at Picacho Middle School, take their students, Angelo Cano, Damian Trujillo, Deandre Alanis and Luis Montoya to the Rio Grande for an educational scavenger hunt.

"When we close down the first time, one of the parents dropped off flowers," Harding said. "I was feeling disappointed .. I (was) taking on some of that guilt, and that made me feel really good."

Harding said she's had to get very creative to be able to connect with and teach her students, something that will have to continue as online instruction resumes.

More:New Mexico appoints leader to special health agency amid virus surge

"I am trying to just take it one day at a time," Harding said before learning of the shelter-in-place order.  "I've realized to reprioritize my instruction, to not just focus on academics, but the whole child, the social and emotional well-being of children. Also, I'm really focusing on what the student('s) future is."

Miranda Cyr, a Report for America corps member, can be reached at or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at