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A small group support session at Mark Armijo Academy in Albuquerque, NM. The session is to assist students with online schoolwork.

Rural, small K-12 schools begin in-person instruction while urban institutions remain remote

On Feb. 17, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education voted “no” on a voluntary re-entry plan that would allow students and teachers the choice to return to in-person learning.

Had the plan passed, Albuquerque teachers would have been expected to be back in the classroom by Feb. 22. Elementary students would have been allowed to return on March 1, and secondary education students March 8. The motion failed on a tight 4 to 3 vote. 

APS board member Peggy Muller-Aragón was the only dissenting vote on the subsequent motion to remain “virtual for the rest of the semester, with the opportunities for the administration to look into the possibilities for small groups that can be brought back to school,” citing the struggles parents and students are facing as well as high school seniors that are lacking support.

Belen Consolidated Schools (BCS) superintendent Lawrence Sanchez said that Belen schools have been operating under the volunteer model. Belen’s school district struggled to kick off remote learning back in the spring 2020 semester.

“In the spring, we depended entirely on ‘paper packets.’ We were not able at that time to do any virtual learning,” Sanchez said.

Belen’s school district spans over southern Valencia County and northern Socorro County, where internet connectivity is unstable.

“Poor children pay the heaviest price; some 463 million students were not able to access remote learning during school shutdowns, and previous shutdowns demonstrate that children who are out of school for extended periods, especially girls, are less likely to return,”  a report by UNICEF said.

Belen school districts approved their reentry plan to bring back all elementary students who wish to return to in-person learning by March 1 (provided they can meet the safety guidelines and requirements outlined by the NMPED Toolkit).

Meanwhile, the Mark Armijo Academy, a charter school authorized by APS in the South Valley, has followed an all-remote learning model since the spring 2020 semester.

Monica Aguilar, the principal at Mark Armijo Academy, said a survey conducted in their community showed parents and students were split on the decision to return to in-person learning, while teachers felt uncomfortable.

“We have been in contact with 100% of our students, so we know that they’re all doing okay. However, it’s the engagement that we are struggling with,” Aguilar said.

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Monica Aguilar, the executive director at the Mark Armijo Academy in southwest Albuquerque.

The Academy’s board made the decision to stay remote until April 9 but has been offering in-person small group support since Monday, Feb. 22.

“It’s going to be optional for students, and it will be optional for staff members and teachers,” Aguilar said.

One of the options provided by PED was a remote model with in-person group support capped at five students.

Aguilar said the safety of students and their families is of paramount concern.

“There’s a lot of families that live in our area that are multi-generational within the household,” Aguilar said. “If one of our students is in contact with someone positive in a classroom, then they go home, and then they give it to a grandparent and we don’t know what underlying conditions the grandparent has — I would hate for something like that to happen.”

The Academy’s board will reconvene prior to April 9 to decide whether the school will stay in remote learning or begin to phase in students.

Sanchez said high school seniors in Belen are “not clamoring to come back because it’s working for them,” but local student athletes held a protest Feb. 23 to tell the school administration they want to play sports again.

James Lucero, a parent of a Belen High School student, attended a BCS board meeting on Feb. 23 and requested that the board allow sports and extracurriculars to resume in the fall semester.

“It’s not just a burden to the kids; I feel for the coaches. As I stated earlier, they have met every requirement — fair or not, doable or not, to make sure these kids are safe and get to play ... I ask the school board and all administrative officials to rethink their decision and please try to come up with a plan to let them play,” Lucero said.

The Durango Herald reported the APS Board of Education approved a letter to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham requesting the guidelines to resume athletics and other extracurricular activities be separated from the hybrid learning model.

“As a parent, and as an educator, I think those extracurricular activities are really important for our students, and it’s sad that that is being taken away from them,” Aguilar said.

The APS Board of Education will meet again on March 3.

Mark Armijo Academy’s board will reconvene in early April to decide whether they will stay remote or begin to phase in students. The decision will be dependent on how many teachers will have access to vaccinations.

BCS is planning on potentially phasing in at-risk secondary students starting March 22 but prioritizing reopening elementary schools by March 1.

Jasmine Casillas is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @jaycasillas

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