After 11 months of empty classrooms and quiet hallways, the doors of Hot Springs High and T-or-C Middle Schools were open. Tuesday, February 16 was a “first day” of sorts, with students emerging from buses and cars and making their way to their classes for the first time since March 13 last year.

Of course, normal is still a little away in the distance. Entering the buildings students answered health questions and had their temperatures checked by school staff before being directed to their classroom. Food Services staff were in the atrium at Hot Springs High, passing out a bagged breakfast to each as they headed to their assigned rooms.

Attendance was down slightly for the first day, as students and families worked out the both last minute issues and maybe a little stiffness from nearly a year’s absence. There are just about 60 percent of the student bodies of each school returning to attend in-school learning, with the rest choosing to remain in a full remote model and attend virtually from home.

Under the mandated hybrid model, the student body is split into two groups, or cohorts, with approximately half in each cohort. One group attends Monday and Tuesday, the other on Thursday and Friday. Students remain in the same classroom during the morning, breaking for lunch and go to a different classroom for the afternoon session. See the February 5 issue of the Sentinel or the Sentinel web page for a full breakdown of the hybrid model and details of the current implementation.

There are strict health and wellness mitigation measures in place, adhering to New Mexico Public Health orders and CDC guidelines. Two-layer cloth or surgical face masks are required to be worn by all. Gaiters and bandanas cannot be used in substitute. Hand sanitizer can be found almost everywhere. There is signage being placed to direct traffic in the hallways. Classrooms are set up with fewer desks, spaced at least six feet apart. There are spaces at tables blocked off, and distancing is enforced throughout.

With only about 30 percent of the student body in attendance at any one time, crowding in the hallways or cafeteria are not much of a problem.

By all accounts, things have proceeded smoothly with the reopening. The two schools had the experience of our three elementary schools to draw from, as they have been open on the hybrid model since September.

District administration and the school board will be closely monitoring conditions at all schools, and reassessing details on how the hybrid model is implemented on a regular basis. The goal is to move ever closer to as open an in-school experience as allowed under state mandated restrictions. At this time, that would include students being able to attend all periods of their class schedule in their regular rooms, as normal, though still only two days a week, with no more than half the student body attending at a time.

•The district is preparing to plot out their next five-year strategic plan. Toward that end a survey, open to all, is still available at the school’s website: torcschools.net. The survey is to get public input, ideas and suggestions for a solid plan moving forward for our schools. They especially would like to get more student input, this seen as vital to development of the plan, which is after all, for the continued drive toward an excellent student educational experience. School staff, students, families and members of the community are invited and encouraged to give their input, regardless of any or no connection to the schools.

•The district reports that every school employee has been offered the COVID vaccine, with over 50 percent having now received either the first, or both doses of the two-shot vaccination. The remainder have thus far declined to be vaccinated, though it is expected that some will reconsider that decision going forward. There is no mandated requirement for teachers or other school employees to receive the vaccine. 

•District is looking ahead to graduation day, scheduled for May 31. The goal is for a traditional, in-person graduation to occur. It may be that will be required to be held outdoors, in which case Tiger Stadium is a likely location. The stated intent is to have a graduation and graduation week filled with tradition, and other events planned to make it a special time for our graduating class of 2021.

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