Portales High Required To Close Based On COVID Spread


SANTA FE — Portales High School became the second of New Mexico’s 840 public schools to face a mandatory return to remote instruction based on COVID-19 spread following widespread school reentry April 5.

The Roosevelt County school of almost 800 students received a mandatory closure order Friday based on four Rapid Responses in 14 days, the state’s conservative threshold to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus.

Per the order, the school may return to in-person instruction May 21.

Some districts or schools have returned voluntarily to remote instruction temporarily since April 5 due to some aspect of the pandemic. For example, some schools found they had too few students or staff members for in-person learning due to quarantines of close contacts. Others decided after a few school-related cases to return to remote learning in an abundance of caution before reaching the threshold.

“Our system of safety protocols is, indeed, working to keep our schools and communities safe from unchecked COVID spread,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “Most New Mexico students have enjoyed the benefits of in-person learning uninterrupted since at least April 5, but we are prepared for brief spells of remote learning when needed and understand that will be the situation until the virus is finally defeated.”

The Rapid Response system, which tracks potential outbreaks at the earliest stages, is part of New Mexico’s COVID safety net. 

A Rapid Response is one or more positive cases at a school that were infectious while on campus. All cases that a school was notified of on a single day, along with all cases with test dates through the following day, are grouped into a single rapid response. Read the complete COVID-19 Rapid Response Watchlist here.

Eldorado High School in Albuquerque April 13 became the first public school required to return to remote instruction for 14 days, a period that ended April 27.

Only the individual school that reaches the four-in-14 threshold is required to return to remote learning. Other schools in the same district are not impacted.

The New Mexico Environment Department keeps track of Rapid Responses based on its own reports and those from other state agencies, including the Public Education Department. 

In addition to the closure list, the Environment Department produces a Watchlist of locations with two or more Rapid Responses. Monday, 50 New Mexico public schools were on the Watchlist, down from a high of 68 May 6.

Staff cases since the beginning of March have stayed flat despite a return to in-person learning.