Magdalena Schools Superintendent Glenn Haven and his administrative staff have been working the last six weeks on contingencies for classes to start next month and with the announcement from the Public Education Department and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, the school can now move forward.

Reflecting the change in the state’s overall COVID-19 trajectory and continued steady rise in the spread of the virus, the state has delayed the eligibility date for the return to in-person learning until September 8.

This means public school students will not attend classes in person through at least Labor Day.

The official start date for all students in first through twelfth grade is Monday, August 10, and Kindergarten students will start a week later on Monday, August 17.

But it’s not as simple as that.

Magdalena students who choose to begin remote learning can do so starting on August 10, Haven said. But there are challenges.

“One of the challenges here is internet connectivity,” Haven said. “We did a survey, and we found out that 33 percent of our kids either don’t have access to the internet or don’t have devices. The majority of them are from the Alamo community.”

He said the district is ordering devices and other hardware such as microphones with boom mics, flash drives, cameras, “to ensure that all students will have access to the technology they need to continue their education remotely.

“We have some operational money to purchase tablets for the elementary level and hopefully some kind of devices or tablets for the upper-grade levels,” Haven said. “We’re trying to reach out and make contact with the appropriate people who can help us get satisfactory internet.”

Another challenge for the school “is teachers who are so used to face-to-face teaching now having to teach using technology.”

He said teachers will have access to training for the Google Classroom platform.

“It’s very interesting. I think it’s going to work for us,” Haven said.

The day after Labor Day, Magdalena Schools will be going with a hybrid plan.

“That is, 50 percent online, and 50 percent in-person,” Haven said. In other words, two days in-person and two days remote.

“The exception is seniors. They will be on-site every day, Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.,” he said.

He added that those students who started online on August 10, may continue remotely after Labor day, or begin attending in-person classes two days a week. That decision was based on an attempt to meet the needs of the families who have more than one child in school.

“One of the factors we’re taking into consideration is having kids in the same family come to school on the same day. For instance, one group of kids in the same family would be here on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another set of kids would attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Haven said. “Also, we’re only allowing 10 to 11 students to a classroom. So, if there are 10 or 11 on Mondays and Wednesdays, there’ll be another 10 or 11 on Tuesdays and Thursdays in that same room.”

Live lessons will be provided daily with students on-site and recorded for students, not on site. “These lessons can be sent electronically if there is internet access in the home or downloaded on a device, like a flash drive, and sent home for students who do not have internet access.

Adhering to the New Mexico Public Education Department mandate, COVID-Safe Practices will be followed for on-site in-person schooling, including the wearing of face coverings and social distancing.

According to a statement on the Magdalena Municipal School District website, the parent survey and communication with the district made it clear that the COVID-Safe Practices requirement “is very difficult for families and students.

“Please do not let this requirement be a deal-breaker for returning to school,” the school said. “We will work with all families regarding all the requirements and if your child has severe asthma, breathing issues, claustrophobia, or any other issues that make this requirement difficult, please call the district to discuss in detail and see how we can help. We have already purchased boxes of masks and face guards and can provide those items to any student who needs them.”

The schools’ website describes all aspects of the plan in detail.

Other challenges for the district are meals and busing.

“We’ll keep the bus seats sanitized each trip, and we’re going to have a teacher’s aide on the bus to take temperatures,” Haven said. “We will be contacting parents to let them know to stay at the bus stop in case we have to decline their kids coming to school if they have a temperature of at least 100.4 degrees.”

Not only that child but other children in the same family, as well.

The PED Re-Entry Guidance document requires “bus drivers, bus attendants, and students to wear face masks or face shields, and to screen students, bus drivers, and bus attendants for symptoms of illness.” Bus attendants will be on each bus and will be trained to administer temperature checks and masks (if necessary) to all students before they get on the bus.”

Students with a temperature of 100.4 or higher – and their siblings – will not be allowed to get on the bus, or be allowed in the building.

Meals are another concern.

“There will be no service line on-site and no eating in the cafeteria,” he said. “Our kids will be eating in the classrooms with our teachers. All meals will be delivered on a cart to the classrooms.”

Disposable styrofoam and plasticware will be used.

“We’re still obligated to feed our kids if they have decided to stay home, so we’re working out logistics on that,” he said. “That is, how we’re going to transport food for the remote students.”

Haven said he encourages parents to call him or the school for any questions.

“There seems to be a little hesitation in regards to parents trying to contact us and what we are planning to do,” he said. “We did send out a letter and posted the plan on the website. We will be more than happy to explain what we’re trying to do.”