School Board Okays Starting Hybrid Learning Model Monday

Parents and students gather Tuesday outside school board building calling for re-opening schools. Courtesy/LAPS

Parents and students make wishes known Tuesday outside the school board building. Courtesy/LAPS

LAPS News:

The Los Alamos School Board gathered Tuesday evening for a regular meeting and more than 300 attendees watched the discussion via Zoom.

For this board meeting, there were two main agenda items on the docket, and first was to discuss options for elementary schools to either remain in remote learning or go ahead with the hybrid model starting Monday, Oct. 19, as originally planned while taking into consideration current COVID-19 conditions and recent health orders released by the governor.

After hearing from numerous teachers and community members expressing concerns about lunchroom procedures, the detrimental effects of reverting back to remote and more, the board then deliberated one more time before voting.

The motion passed 4-1 to begin the hybrid learning model at the elementary schools Monday, Oct. 19.

Board Vice President Christine Bernstein, who previously recused herself from discussions about the hybrid learning model due to a conflict of interest, explained that she was going to participate because her for-profit business aids a different student population than elementary-aged children.

To assist the board in making an informed decision, Superintendent Steinhaus provided an update on the district’s readiness to transition from remote learning with small groups to the hybrid model. He explained that although he requested additional time back in September to fulfill the safety requirements from the state, he believes the district is now prepared to bring students back, especially with the help of very careful planning and also community partners who have stepped up and given generously to assist LAPS.

“In recognizing challenges, today’s decision about moving to Hybrid Learning may be as much about mental health and isolation as it is about COVID-19 even though both are serious safety issues” he said.

Superintendent Steinhaus emphasized that plans are in place.

“We are ready to transition to hybrid learning. All systems are ‘go’,” he said.

Next, Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Guy reviewed the results from a survey distributed to elementary school staff in order to gather feedback on their preference of staying in remote or transitioning to hybrid. The survey had a 99 percent response rate. Across all elementary schools, 48.3 percent preferred remote  and 51.7 percent preferred hybrid.

Guy reviewed the results by school site and said, “There are some differences, but overall, it’s a pretty even split.”

The survey also asked for the primary reason for their choice and 35.7 percent said “safety”, 31.0 percent said “student learning” and 23.8 percent said “student engagement”.

Guy explained that Los Alamos is unique in that the small school populations translate to a smaller average number of students per class for hybrid in-person instruction compared to other districts around the state.

School Board President Ellen Ben-Naim framed the difficult decision the board needed to make by empathizing with teachers and families on both sides of the issue. She acknowledged the social emotional concerns of the stress of transitioning to yet another model as well as the fear of the unknown.

“We’ve never done hybrid before,” Ben-Naim said.

The school board members thoroughly discussed current COVID-19 conditions in New Mexico as well as the repercussions if the number of cases continues to rise and the possibility that school may be forced to move back to remote learning.

Ben-Naim said she believed it was worth giving hybrid a try.

“There’s not a zero risk scenario,” she said.

School Board Member Melanie Colgan reassured those on the Zoom call that the board has been following the data that has been available to them and careful planning has gone into this transition.

“Is it perfect? No. But it is the next step that we need to take,” Colgan said.

The next item on the agenda was to approve the next step for construction at the White Rock schools. Superintendent Steinhaus began by thanking the people of Los Alamos for approving the bond at a record percent of “yes” votes. Guy talked about the White Rock Planning Group formed earlier this year, and Chamisa and Piñon principals Craig Washnok and Ivanna Austell presented feedback to the board from the Town Hall held Oct. 6. The goal of the Town Hall was to brainstorm ideas about how to best utilize this opportunity not only for upgrading the school buildings, but also for community purposes such as a recreation center or community garden.

The motion to approve LAPS staff to proceed with the Educational Specifications process for Piñon and Chamisa elementary schools passed unanimously.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Board recognized Sept. 15-Oct. 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month. LAPS staff members put together a video celebrating their unique heritage.

“This is a time to recognize the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of Hispanic communities right here in northern New Mexico,” Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus said.

The video can be found on the LAPS website and LAPS YouTube page.

At the meting, LAHS Student Council officer William McTeigue gave a report on a different but successful Homecoming Week. Students designed and then participated in festive activities for “Stay@Home-Coming 2020” including spirit dress up days, the crowning of a Homecoming King and Queen, a car cruise down Diamond Drive, and a dance party at home instead of the traditional homecoming dance. Next, students are looking forward to celebrating Halloween Week in a similar fashion.

The next school board work session is 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22 and the next regular school board meeting is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Thursday, Oct. 29, the School Board will participate in a joint meeting with the Los Alamos County Council to discuss options for LAPS property on North Mesa between Los Alamos the Middle School parking lot and the baseball fields.

To read the North Mesa Housing Study, click Here.