PED Secretary, Staff, Fire Marshals Visiting Open Schools

PED News:

…Check-ins help school leaders evaluate safety protocols, identify needs

SANTA FE — Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, his top deputies and state and local fire marshals are visiting New Mexico schools to support and advise school leaders on reentry protocols and building safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fire marshals will visit all 20 school districts and the handful of charter schools that returned to in-person learning in the hybrid mode before the end of the day today.

The marshals are advising school leaders on room/building capacity and safe social distancing and help school leaders assess air flow, ventilation in classrooms and identify remaining needs.

“The fire marshals have agreed to use their expertise in building safety and capacity to help school leaders keep students and educators as safe as possible amid the pandemic,” Stewart said. “These are not fire safety inspections per se, and no one is going to get a citation. They are  there to help.”

As part of their training, fire marshals develop expertise in setting and enforcing building occupancy standards, which are designed to allow occupants to safely exit a building during an emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those occupancy standards are often used as guidance for how much indoor space is required for 6-foot social distancing.

Marshals also regularly inspect buildings, including the design of HVAC systems and indoor air quality, including air volume and flow.

PED’s deputy secretaries also are fanning out this week and next to visit so-called “micro-districts” – those with 100 students or fewer.

Currently, New Mexico schools have been cleared to bring back only elementary students, but microdistricts will be allowed to bring back middle and high school students as well following a requested PED site visit.

Once cleared, the older students will return in the hybrid mode in a 5:1 ratio of students to staff per enclosed indoor space. 

Students and staff also must be able to maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times, and these districts must adhere to all health and safety requirements outlined in the PED reentry guidance and associated guidance documents. 

Stewart also is working school site visits into his schedule. Although he had to cancel a Thursday morning trip to northeast New Mexico, those visits to schools in Questa, Mora and Las Vegas City will be rescheduled soon.  

“I can’t wait to see students and teachers reunited for face-to-face learning, and to offer school leaders whatever assistance they need to continue meeting and exceeding reentry requirements,” Stewart said. “We want to help them however we can in order to meet our twin commitments to protect the health and safety of students and staff while maximizing in-person learning opportunities,” he said.

This will be the secretary’s second road trip since mid-August, when he visited schools and districts in Bloomfield, Cuba and Albuquerque to check on reopening preparations.