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

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — With only a month left before students are scheduled to return to school, parents are concerned with the health and safety of both the children and the staff as well as the quality of education amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

When students were sent home for online learning in March, as the pandemic began sweeping through the state, the system was rushed. Some parents were concerned that the challenges and problems encountered this spring will continue in the fall.

Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Eugene Schmidt said this will not be the case. He said learning this fall will look different than the spring virtual learning. Schmidt presented plans to hundreds of attendees during a school board meeting July 14 hosted via Zoom.

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“The world we know has changed,” Schmidt said. “The educational system we’re about to enter will change.”

Families will have the choice of sending their children to school in person or keeping them at home for online learning, however all students will have regular schedules and be expected to move forward with the curriculum at the same pace.

McKinley Elementary School sits quiet on Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Farmington.

Keeping the students moving forward at the same pace will help the schools if the pandemic conditions improve and the district is able to bring all children back for in-person learning. It will also ensure the students are at the same level should the coronavirus worsen and the district has to return to an online-only learning option.

District conducting survey this week

Parents and guardians in Farmington should expect calls from principals. The school district is surveying families to find out how many students will be returning to in-person learning and how many will choose to continue with online learning.

“We need to figure out where parents will plant their flag,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt urged parents and guardians to check their contact information in PowerSchool and ensure it is up to date.

A student looks at illustrations in a "Captain Underpants" novel during the Jan. 17 book giveaway by the Rio Del Sol Kiwanis Club at Animas Elementary School in Farmington.

The results of the survey will help Farmington schools prepare for reopening.

Human Resources Director Chris Pash explained that teachers who are in a category considered at high-risk of COVID-19 complications will not be teaching in person. Instead, they will provide the online learning. The number of teachers that will be teaching inside the school buildings will depend on how many families choose to send their children to school in person.

Students head back to class after a ribbon cutting ceremony, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at the newly renovated McCormick Elementary School in Farmington.

If a large percentage of the families want to have their children return to in-school learning, Schmidt said the district will repurpose areas like gymnasiums into classrooms to spread the students out and maintain social distancing.

Schmidt said there are lots of parents who want to see their children return to school for social and emotional reasons. He said there are also parents needing to return to work who rely on the schools.

“We educate kids and parents rely on us to take care of kids during the day,” he said.

Protocols include masks, social distancing, cleaning and temperature checks

Students who attend school in person will have their temperatures taken before entering the school or getting on the bus. Children who have a fever will be sent home.

Everyone who enters the school buildings will also be required to wear masks or face shields. Schmidt said the district has ordered two face shields for every teacher so that students can see faces. Each teacher will also have a microphone.

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The school district is installing hand sanitizing stations throughout the schools, including by the playgrounds. Children will be required to use hand sanitizer after playing on the playgrounds.

The policy also calls for regular cleaning and disinfecting.

McCormick Elementary School Principal Lyn White high-fives her students as they head back to class, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 at their newly renovated school in Farmington.

Social distancing measures will be enforced, including eating breakfast and lunch in classrooms and not having children facing each other. Schmidt said he likes classroom setups where four desks are grouped together and the children can interact, but that type of setup will not be possible due to the coronavirus.

Schmidt presented a plan calling for staggered reentry into schools. Different grades will start class on different dates. On Aug. 13, kindergartners, first graders, sixth graders and high school freshman will begin either online or in-person learning.

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The next wave of students — pre-kindergarten, second, third, seventh and 10th grade — will resume their learning on Aug. 18. The remainder of students will begin classes on Aug. 19.

Should a student test positive for COVID-19, Schmidt said the classroom will be isolated and the district will do rigorous contact tracing.

Football and soccer will not be allowed during the fall season due to coronavirus.

Parent expresses concerns about lack of sports

One parent expressed concern about students who go to school to play sports and may not have that option this fall.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last week that contact sports like football and soccer will not be allowed in the fall. The New Mexico Activities Association said it plans to have spring football and soccer seasons. The parent said that will force some students to choose between the sports that they currently play.

“We’ll get back to the sports,” Schmidt said. “It’s just a question of when and how.”

Farmington Municipal Schools Superintendent Eugene Schmidt interacts with Ladera Del Norte Elementary School students in September 2019.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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