August 16, 2022
Greetings Cottonwood family and our fellow New Mexico citizens,
Yesterday, we made the difficult announcement that we would need to temporarily switch to fully remote instruction due to exceeding a threshold of 3% of our staff and students being positive and infectious with Covid-19 while on campus.
This announcement has generated interest from the press, several state legislators, and generally concerned citizens. It is indeed frustrating and confusing that we are still in a situation in which variants of this particular coronavirus continue to persist to the extent that our students’ schooling can be impacted.
While the manner in which this persistence can vary from school to school, or district to district, in our case we have reached the point of going remote for five (5) calendar days because that is what we, as a community, agreed we would do last September (2021) when the New Mexico Public Education Department asked all schools to come up with an Enhanced Covid-safe Practices plan (link to ours) that considered myriad mitigating strategies to slow the spread of Covid-19. At that time, we agreed to move to remote learning for five calendar days if we exceeded the threshold of 3% (roughly 25 individuals) of our staff and students being positive and infectious with Covid-19 while on campus. Not every school or district included remote learning in their Enhanced plans, but we did.
In January 2022, we reached that threshold for the first time, and we were remote for several school days. In that case, the spread did indeed slow, and we were back to in-person learning with a reduced rolling case count and more confidence that we could bounce back from any temporary movement to remote learning. We anticipate this situation unfolding in a similar fashion, and we look forward to a return to in-person learning by Monday, August 22nd.
I want to be extremely clear that, even in this exigent situation of quickly transitioning to remote learning, our school is not closed. The learning continues, with students following their normal bell schedule and having synchronous time with all teachers. I am exceptionally proud of our teachers and our non-instructional staff for their ability and willingness to move mountains for our students and strive to maintain the best possible teaching and learning while remote. There are several reasons we are ranked high in New Mexico as well as nationally as a school, and chief among them is the dedication of our teachers to persist through adversity and provide support while maintaining high expectations. Our students are not in the building, and that is frustrating; but they are learning, and we are consistently putting acceleration above remediation in our efforts. I am proud of our students and their resilience, and I sit with them in the frustration that we are not yet quite back to the “normal” we want.
There are some understandable concerns and questions about the role of PED, APS, or other governmental agencies/individuals in this announcement. I want to be extremely clear that our transition to temporary remote learning is not a direct PED or APS mandate. PED’s involvement is limited to the requirement from last year to come up with our own Enhanced Covid-safe Practices Plan, and the plan’s continued existence in the most recent toolkit. I tried to make this clear in my email yesterday to our community, but there has been some layers of confusion.
In fact, as evidenced by yesterday’s memorandum releasing many restrictions around surveillance testing, quarantine for unvaccinated close contacts, etc, the Public Education Department is making moves to give more and more local control to districts and charter schools in making decisions around Covid-19 mitigations, health, and safety.
The CCPS Governing Council is meeting on Tuesday night (8/23) at 5 PM. It is a hybrid meeting, and there are options to attend in-person and also via Google Meet. See our Events Calendar on the website for details. On Tuesday night, the Governing Council will do its best, in consultation with Nurse Dennison and myself, to make decisions about how we want to move forward with our approach to mitigating and managing our response to Covid-19 and its spread on our campus. This includes at what threshold, if any, we would remove to remote learning in the future, and for how long; how we want to handle close contacts and quarantines; test to stay for students without vaccination status being verified or unvaccinated; surveillance testing; and more.
If you are not a member of the CCPS community, I encourage you to seek out your school or district’s plans for Covid-19 response, as available, and to remain engaged with the Governing Council or School Board making these decisions for your community.
Schools are perpetually faced with legal and moral dilemmas in their decision making, and this is a clear example. My commitment to you, Cottonwood family, is that we will do our best to capture your feedback as the week continues. As we move forward together, we will undoubtedly do our best to balance the highest priorities of maintaining an in-person learning environment with student physical and emotional well-being. These are difficult decisions to make in a community of students, parents, teachers, GC members, and extended family members that, when combined, number in the thousands; but this is an iterative, collaborative process. We will do our best together, in community, to evolve our approaches as the circumstances, scientific understanding, and governmental direction evolve in front of us.
In Perpetual Partnership,
Mr. Binnert (John)