New Mexico public schools welcomed students back to fully in-person class this week for the first time since the pandemic began. KUNM spoke with Monica Armenta, Executive Director of Communication for Albuquerque Public Schools, about how the week is starting off, and why some students are choosing to stay remote.
MONICA ARMENTA: What we saw yesterday on campus was a lot of excitement. I mean, a little anxiety, probably from staff – you've been planning for this a whole year and you're eager to see students, you've missed them. We saw a little bit of everything, but more than anything, I think there was a sense of relief and joy to be at a point where things are getting better. A lot of the students who came back want to routine, they want to see their teacher again, they want to see their friends. But we did have a couple of glitches. We had a internet issue that created problems pretty much district-wide yesterday,
KUNM: It affected the Wi-Fi, is that right? The Wi-Fi went down?
ARMENTA: Correct. So, not everybody was getting the fast internet they needed or they'd get the wheel that spins. And it was really only with students who were in the classroom.
KUNM: And is anything being done to ensure stable internet access across the district from here on?
ARMENTA: The minute, we knew it was an issue, the IT team got on it. It took a little while, but the issue seems to be resolved now. And we still do not know the root cause, but we're visiting schools today to understand as much as we can about what happened. And we have contracts with all of the different providers, so we're working with them, and doing everything we can to troubleshoot to avoid being in this situation again.
KUNM: And did the district field any other complaints or incidents yesterday?
ARMENTA: I only heard complaints that were brought to me by other reporters. We had a complaint that a teacher at one of the high schools took his or her mask off and encouraged students to do that. Of course, that is totally unacceptable, against protocol. You have to wear a mask at all times, unless you're eating, if you're on APS property. So, that was one thing. We had one parent who was not happy because when their student arrived to their class, he or she was taught by another teacher. There aren't many, I don't have the number, but the percentage is very low of teachers who were granted ADA accommodations to continue learning virtually. There are some instances where other teachers are going to pick up their duties.
KUNM: Is that how it impacts their students who do want to return? If their teacher's not back, they're going to get a different teacher in the meantime?
ARMENTA: yes, or a sub. But there's not one model to give you because the actual percentage of students showing up across the district varies widely.
KUNM: Does the district have a sense of why and how many families chose to keep their students remote?
ARMENTA: We don't have a number yet. And the reason for that is when we call for attendance, we know students are either present or not, but we don't have software that tells us 'oh, they're present virtually, or present in person.' Add to that, that that number will continue to be fluid. We've asked students to commit for the week to do one or the other. And by the end of the week, to decide. The second thing you asked about was why they may be going home? Well, I think that sometimes finances play a big role. So, if you're in a household where your parents do not have an option to work from home if you come home sick, then that might be a wise choice that you decide not to take the chance. As opposed to a household where, if a kid comes home sick from school and everybody has to quarantine 10 days, well, that's not a loss of 10 days of earnings. Some people are erring on the side of caution, some are deciding it's worth the risk. And then there's another group: students who are thriving in remote learning.
KUNM: Now, vaccine eligibility. It expanded this week to include all New Mexicans 16 and older. Educators have been prioritized for the last several weeks. Do you have a sense of what percentage of APS staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine, or are fully immunized at this point?
ARMENTA: We cannot ask that as a district. But I can tell you that as of last week, every educator in this district who wanted a vaccine had the opportunity to receive it.