No masks required to start APS school year | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Students walk to a recreation area with their lunches at Lew Wallace Elementary school in April. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, students are in for a more normal start to the school year, Albuquerque Public Schools district leaders say.

APS Superintendent Scott Elder. (Courtesy of APS)

“At the moment, there’s no mask mandate … which I think is fabulous,” Superintendent Scott Elder said. “And there’s no social distancing.”

Students will still need to report positive tests of COVID-19, Elder said, adding that schools will continue their “test-to-stay” programs.

That means anyone who’s been exposed to the virus will need to test negative and not show any symptoms in order to keep coming to school.

If a school reaches a 3% positivity rate, district officials will consider implementing enhanced COVID-safe practices, Emergency Response Coordinator Julie Sanchez said in a written statement. If a school reaches 5%, those practices will be required.

Enhanced practices, she said, can include outdoor learning and lunchtime, staggering passing periods and recesses, limiting who can visit schools, facing students the same way in classrooms and cafeterias, and closing water fountains.

They can also include implementing cohorting – which entails keeping students and staff together in the hopes of limiting spread.

One of the most recent times APS implemented enhanced practices in schools was in January when two schools reached 5% positivity and about half of the district’s schools hit or got close to 3% positivity.

Under normal circumstances, schools will regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces and deeply clean facilities, Sanchez said. Sports teams, according to the state Public Education Department’s COVID-19 toolkit, will use similar practices.

The PED also emphasizes making sure community locker rooms have sufficient air filtration systems and that teams use locker rooms only when adults can make sure athletes are practicing social distancing when inside.

Students had to wear masks in the beginning of the last school year, but APS lifted its mask mandate in February – around the same time Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifted a requirement to wear coverings in most indoor spaces.

Last week, state Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus told the Journal that districts would be able to make some of their own decisions related to the pandemic to keep their communities safe.

For instance, if a school board notices a quick uptick in infection rates in their district, they can have students start wearing masks for a week.

“That’s their choice,” he said. “That’s what this is all about: safety for the kids and the staff.”

Extended learning time students start school on Thursday, according to the APS website. Students in schools on a traditional calendar have their first day next Wednesday.

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