Española Valley High School students will return to school on campus by Feb. 22 and athletes are on track to start the 2021 sports season by the end of the month.
The Española School Board voted 3-2 on Feb. 9 in favor of the District administration’s proposal to have the High School enter into a remote model where students will rotate between in-person and online learning. Board Members Jeremy Maestas and Brandon Bustos voted against returning to in-person learning.
The High School will offer both students and teachers the choice of remaining remote or returning to in-person learning two days per week. Other schools in the District will remain remote, with a possibility of phasing back into in-person learning later.
If students opt to enter in-person learning, they will be split into cohorts alphabetically; students with last names starting with A through L will be on campus Mondays and Tuesdays, and students with last names M through Z will be on campus Thursdays and Fridays.
The Google Meet virtual meeting hit a cap of over 100 people in the meeting. No members of the public spoke during the public comment section.
Board President Gilbert Serrano said that students, parents and teachers should all have a choice about whether to return to in-person learning or remain online. He said it was important to stop the spread of the virus as much as possible, and the District must take every safety measure possible.
“We continue to utilize all our resources available to meet the needs of all the staff and students, utilizing a collaborative approach in dealing with issues that arise to solve problems big or small,” Serrano said. “We can’t solve this problem without everyone’s input and collaboration.”
Board Secretary Yolanda Salazar said it was a challenging decision, and said as a medical professional her research showed that mental health and social issues have greatly impacted children in the community and across the country. She said the impact has been greater than that of COVID-19 in children, though she did not specify how that was determined.
Board Member Brandon Bustos said he was not in favor of a re-entry into a hybrid model. He said the community has lost too many people to the virus, and schools should stay virtual. He is sympathetic to students, especially seniors, who have missed out on many important experiences, but is worried about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases.
Superintendent Fred Trujillo repeated parts of his presentation from the Feb. 4 meeting, including survey results that showed a majority of staff that felt uncomfortable returning to an in-person learning model, especially before a vaccine was readily available to teachers. Teachers are currently not in the prioritization group eligible to receive the vaccine in New Mexico.
Trujillo said students and families who wish to remain remote will keep that option, and staff can teach virtually.
The plan will allow the District to become eligible for athletic events under the New Mexico Activities Association, which could begin the volleyball season on Feb. 22.
Trujillo said if there is a positive case of the virus, they will follow Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which include a quarantine for any close contacts.
Peter Madsen, an Española Middle School teacher, spoke on behalf of the National Education Association chapter. He said they were encouraged by the superintendent and the plan made that addressed staff members’ concerns. He said the Chapter endorses the plan for the hybrid re-entry model.
“We want to remain vigilant of and adhere to all of the protocols that are outlined,” he said. “We want to continue working together to make sure that this plan isn’t just a plan on paper, but is the reality for all of our members.”
Maestas asked about siblings who had different last names, and Trujillo clarified that all siblings will be in the same cohort.
When voting, Maestas expressed his concerns about the plan, and about the state’s plan to only allow schools to compete in athletics and activities if they return to a hybrid model, and about the vaccine not being made available to teachers. He referenced the survey results showing parents and staff concerned about the hybrid model.
“When I ran for office, I’m sure as for my colleagues as well, none of us expected to be put in this position,” he said. “But I remember when I ran I told my constituents that I would always bring their voices to the table, and that is what I feel I am doing tonight.”
Maestas then joined Bustos in voting against the hybrid re-entry plan, which passed with the votes of the three other Board members.
Concerns included the unavailability of vaccines for teachers, time necessary to adjust and transition to in-person learning, and the difficulty of preparing both in-person and remote lessons.
Ashley Vigil, a teacher at Fairview Elementary, also spoke to the Board Feb. 4 about teachers’ concerns.
“My colleagues and I continue to voice these concerns with our willingness to assist in the creation and implementation of a comprehensive site-specific safety plan, only to have been frightened, confused and worried at the events that continued to unfold as these plans continue to get put off until now,” she said.
Vigil was at first cut off after two minutes as per the public comment guidelines, but multiple people in the meeting offered to yield their two minutes to her to let her continue, and ultimately Maestas offered to use his time to let her finish speaking.
She said teachers felt that the District did not hear the concerns of teachers. She asked why parents, staff and students were not involved in creating a site-specific plan.
“I am tired of defending this District as an alumni and a long-time employee, time and time again, only to be belittled by the power of my voice,” she said. “I am tired of being told that my professionalism may be at stake because I ask questions and clarifications.”
Trujillo said staff who supported switching to in-person learning mentioned the social and emotional needs of students, activities and athletics, and paying school bus contractors.
Trujillo said students would have the option in a hybrid model to return to in-person learning two days per week. One cohort would attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, and another would be on Thursdays and Fridays.
The District has plans to prepare buildings for re-entry, including personal protective equipment for staff and students, classrooms set up for social distancing, ensuring all windows and doors are operable, and ventilation systems that meet the state’s standards.