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Coronavirus closures: New Mexico public schools shuttered for remainder of the school year

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — K-12 public schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year according to an announcement made by the New Mexico Public Education Department on March 27.

“We know that this decision will have tremendous implications for our families, but we must act to keep our communities safe and healthy,” said Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart.

The state issued a press release that sought to answer several questions.

"Proms will be postponed or canceled pending the prevailing public health order at the time," the document stated. "Graduation ceremonies will likely be postponed until it is safe to resume mass gatherings. Many districts have already committed to hosting an event, even if the ceremony needs to be postponed for a few months."

It also stated that school employees would continue to be paid, and it is expected that school athletic practices will resume in the summer.

"I think all of us knew it was a possibility," New Mexico Activities Association Associate Director Dusty Young said about spring sports being cancelled.

He said it was a tough decision. The state dance and cheer competition would have been happening on March 27 if the coronavirus had not caused schools to close.

And the decision doesn't just impact sports. NMAA also organizes other extracurricular competitions including concert band and choir. 

"Not having the opportunity for kids to participate in the things they love is tough," he said.

However, Young said the most important thing is ensuring the health and safety of the students.

For seniors, the spring season can be the last chance they have to get noticed by college scouts. Aztec Municipal Schools District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter encouraged those student athletes not to be discouraged. 

"Don't give up on your dreams," he said. "There are so many stories about kids walking on."

He said the current situation was something uncontrollable, but encouraged athletes to use it as an additional drive to train harder.

"We can't change what we face in life, but we have full control in how we handle it," he said.

Continuous learning plans

"Schools will not be required to make up the missed instructional days between March 16 and April 3, but for the remaining weeks of the school year to be waived, districts must develop both technology-based and non-technology-based continuous learning plans," Stewart said in the release.

New Mexico joins Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, Virginia and Vermont in closing their K-12 public schools for the remainder of the school year in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  

Bloomfield School District Superintendent Kim Mizell said Bloomfield is working on a continuous learning plan, with teachers meeting and collaborating via online video conferencing applications.

Mizell said that teachers will begin calling their students' homes to assess whether or not students have access to the internet, or a computer, or other resources.

Mizell said the district's continuous learning plan would be a hybrid of online resources, and paper packets for students without reliable access to the internet. She expects to have the district's continuous learning plan ready by April 6.  

NMPED is encouraging school districts to reach out and work with local internet providers "to see what options are available for community members."

The department is also looking for federal and state funding to help school districts purchase resources like laptops, tablets and WiFi hotspots for students. 

Mizell said that the district will work hard to support the community, and that students would not be educationally "left-behind." 

"We are going to do everything we can to support our students, parents, and staff,” Mizell said. 

Central Consolidated School District Spokesperson Roberto Taboada said CCSD is in constant meetings to decide how to develop and roll out their own continuous learning plan.

Taboada said the district should have an announcement to make regarding a continuous learning plan by the end of the day on March 27.   

For high school seniors, NMPED is requiring that school districts design their own "locally designed demonstration of competency," to earn credits and be eligible for graduation, which may include things like "Passing a locally designed test, Completing a locally designed series of assignments, Achieving a set cut score on a college entrance exam [or] Demonstrating applied work experience," according to a statement released by the department.

Carpenter said Aztec's school district is finalizing a survey looking at how to best get school work to the students, especially those who might not have internet access.The continuous learning plan for Aztec schools will be released in early April.

Carpenter's message for seniors is that the school district will do everything it can to ensure they get their diplomas.

"We want to make sure that they get the credits they need to graduate and go forward," he said.

More:School districts around the county brace for the likelihood of an extended school closure

However, he said it will require work on the students' end. Students, regardless of grade, will be expected to complete coursework while the schools are closed. 

"Families have got to be a major, major partner more than ever before," he said.

Students will have until June 19 to demonstrate these competencies. Those who can't complete them by June 19 will be offered credit recovery over the summer. 

"No student can be denied graduation due to lack of access to demonstrate competency," according to the statement released by NMPED. 

NMPED is also encouraging school districts to adopt a pass/no credit grading system instead of the regular letter grading system for the remainder of the school year.  

NMPED is anticipating that both ACT and College Board will offer exams over the summer.

Advanced placement, or AP, exams will also now be offered online. NMPED will work with schools and districts to provide support to AP students who do not have reliable access to the internet. 

NMPED also said they will continue working with school districts to provide school meals throughout the extended school closure. The department is applying to be able to distribute EBT cards to families to purchase food with.  

For students who receive special education, the department is working with special education staff to make sure that to "the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP," according to the statement.  

“To all of our educators and all of our students, we know this is tough, but we are with you.” Stewart added at the end of a press conference on March 27. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup has not yet made a decision regarding extending Sacred Heart School's closure, according to spokeswoman Suzanne Hammons.

Go to www.daily-times.com to check out our live blog on news related to the coronavirus.

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.

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The empty parking lot at C.V. Koogler Middle School is pictured, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Aztec.
An empty playground is pictured, Friday, March 27, 2020, at Lydia Rippey Elementary School in Aztec.