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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention logged 1,600 COVID-19 investigations on commercial aircraft between January and August.

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LAS CRUCES – Students talk to one another and teachers in class, while other kids run and play during recess at Las Cruces Catholic School. 

LCCS, a private school, is going forward with in-person education this semester, and the voices of children in the hallways and outside are a stark contrast to the public schools in the area, which will be closed to most students through this calendar year as a way to combat the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is responsible for COVID-19.

The catholic school, which includes preschool through eighth grade, has yet to report positive case of COVID-19 since it opened Aug. 19.

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Principal Adrian Galaz said a majority of teachers surveyed before the start of the semester favored a return to in-person instruction.

“We understand our responsibility to provide high academics, but also meeting their social and emotional needs has been a definite plus during this time,” Galaz said. “We are not offering a foolproof plan in our school, it’s just a matter of having several layers of protection.”

The school semester began with three options for students. They could return to fully in-person instruction, fully online instruction or a hybrid. Galaz said roughly 170 students have physically been going to campus while 30 to 40 students are learning remotely.

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Adrian Galaz, principal of Las Cruces Catholic School and Windy Drake, assistant principal stand in from of Las Cruces Catholic School in Las Cruces on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020. (Photo: Nathan J Fish/Sun-News)

Virtual instruction has been implemented by setting up webcams in every classroom and students then join class remotely through Google Meet, Galaz explained. This allows students to receive real-time instruction while maintaining their health. He added that none of the school’s measures are high tech.

“There’s other schools that probably have a better infrastructure than we do it and we’re still able to maintain this capability,” he said.

Galaz said the school has put in place many precautions, including temperature checks of all students and staff, mask requirements, outside handwashing stations, reduced class sizes and mask break stations – where students can take off their masks in a safe place. Middle school teachers also switch between classes rather than the students. Galaz provided a list of implemented practices:

  • Continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and New Mexico Department of Health
  • Communication with staff, students and parents
  • Temperature checks for both staff and students
  • Every room has a designated thermometer
  • Desks are socially distanced within the classroom settings
  • New drop-off and pick-up procedures and locations — designated areas for students and parents
  • Signage, fluorescent tape, cones, etc. on campus and in the school buildings
  • Masks are required in the building and on campus, unless in a designated “safe zone”
  • No physical contact during recess (grabbing or high contact sports)
  • Frequent sanitation (restrooms) utilizing a checklist indicating times and frequency
  • Hand sanitizer stations placed at entry points of both buildings
  • HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Ari) purifiers with ultraviolet lighting and a three-layer filtration system placed in all classrooms
  • Installed preschool tabletop barriers/dividers for students to have their own “protected” area
  • Water fountains are not being used in the main hallways
  • Touchless bathroom facility upgrades
  • Portable handwashing stations placed outdoors
  • Misting machines (hospital grade cleaner) used on the playground and end-of-day in the buildings
  • Classrooms have been restructured to limit movement and restrict sharing of school supplies
  • Middle school students do not rotate for core subjects
  • Lockers are not being utilized. A crate system in the classroom has been implemented to contain belongings
  • No visitors are allowed (extremely limited)
  • Lunch in classrooms or outside
  • Staggered recess times to limit numbers of students
  • Symptomatic students are sent home
  • Quarantine for out-of-state travel or exposure

“I witness even our younger students abiding daily to our safety expectations. I recall a first-grade student running towards a classmate wanting to give her friend a hug. The other friend replied ‘no hugs remember’ but they did do an air hug. Yes, this sounds sad, but it also has elements of beauty in it, that students are resilient and able to adapt while discovering alternative ways to communicate and interact safely,” Galaz said.

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now meets those gating requirements.

On Tuesday the Las Cruces Public Schools board voted unanimously to remain remote until Dec. 18 or longer based on state and local advisory. Face-to-face instruction opportunities will be offered for small groups of students in special education, preschool students and “At-Promise youth” which includes new English learners, homeless students, migrant students, foster students, students who are not engaged and students struggling in the online environment and are at risk of failure.

“When we look at Las Cruces Catholic School who has 200 students and they are back, you know, at a 25% capacity for their building, they’re working under a different level of rules than we are,” LCPS Superintendent Karen Trujillo said during the school board meeting.

Leah Romero is a fellow with the New Mexico Local News Fund and can be reached at [email protected] or @rromero_leah on Twitter.

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