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Parents wait in line to pick up preschoolers from a New Mexico school under strict and lengthy COVID-19 protocols. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

Schools restarting across the U.S. are juggling mask mandates and COVID-19 testing requirements. But in my daughters' first three weeks back, I've become familiar with another headache: the three hours it now takes each day for drop-offs and pickups.

Why it matters: Restrictions on how students enter and leave campuses are forcing parents to plan how to navigate long car lines — and often maskless crowds.

  • In line, parents hold meetings on Zoom in their cars. Those who have to get back to restaurant jobs or other service or shift work look nervously at the time.

Details: My daughters attend two different schools in New Mexico that require commutes of a total of 65 miles every day for drop off and pickup.

  • Ava, 7, attends a new elementary school in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, where parents aren't allowed past the gate because of virus restrictions. You can pick up via a car or stand in the hot desert to wait for a child to walk out.
  • Elena, 4, attends a public preschool in Bernalillo, New Mexico, that only allows parents to drop off and pick up children in their cars under strict rules. IDs are checked. Teachers use walkie-talkies to radio that a parent has arrived.
  • Mom does the mornings. I do the afternoons. Each trip takes at least 1.5 hours — longer on days when there are accidents or road work.

The reality: Commutes and pick up can take longer in other parts of New Mexico, especially on the Navajo Nation, where students sometimes live 45 miles or further from schools.

  • But friends and family in Los Angeles and Houston are telling me their daily school routines can take two hours each trip.

My tricks: To avoid the long car line at the Rio Rancho school, which can grow to more than a quarter of a mile, I park on a dirt road near the school and walk Ava to school or wait for her outside the gate.

  • Coyotes sometimes dot the landscape, staring down from afar the crowds who have scared away their prey.
  • On our walk, we must pass maskless parents who defiantly stroll to the gate as if daring someone to challenge them about their decision not to take this basic precaution. Where we live, you also have to keep an eye on the ground for snakes.
  • At the preschool, I arrive at 1:50pm to get a spot for a 2:25pm pick-up. If I arrive later, I'll be in the back of the line and may not get my daughter until after 3pm I now have a pass that allows staff to forgo the ID check.
Parents wait for students at a Rio Rancho, N.M., elementary. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

Yes, but: After the first week of school for Ava, she started coughing and suffering from a runny nose. Elena also began coughing. I got body aches and mom coughed.

  • Schools required COVID-19 tests or 10 days of quarantine before returning, which meant Elena, whose school started later, would miss her first day.
  • Mom and I are vaccinated. The children's age groups are not yet authorized for the shots.
  • Tests came back negative, but Elena, with no interaction with anyone besides us yet, got an ear infection. She'd miss a week.

As the new school year began across New Mexico, there was a school shooting at Washington Middle School, also known as La Washa, in Albuquerque. Bennie Hargrove, a 13-year-old, was killed after trying to stop the alleged shooter, also a student, from bullying a friend, investigators said.

  • Parents waiting for children in our elementary school parking lot checked our phones for updates and looked toward Albuquerque, where a rainstorm brewed. "Maybe we're going back to normal," one parent told another. She hugged her daughter as soon as she saw her. I hugged mine, too.
A rainstorm is seen from a Rio Rancho, N.M., elementary over Albuquerque on the day of a school shooting. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

What's next: Classroom birthdays this year can still be celebrated — as long as the kids sing through their masks. Cakes are banned but students can bring packages of goldfish, bags of M&Ms or other wrapped treats that can be served individually.

  • Most afternoon programs are on hiatus and open houses are virtual.
  • On weekends, to stay calm, we go on hikes and visit New Mexico sites where disease once nearly wiped out Indigenous populations who proudly say today, "We're still here."

Arriving early one day for elementary school pickup, I took a detour to look out at the empty desert mesa. A coyote roamed in the distance and as our eyes met, I could have sworn he was wondering the same thing I was: When will this all be over?

A hike in Jemez Historic Monument in Jemez Springs, N.M. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

Go deeper

Utah school district ignored widespread racial harassment, DOJ says

The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington D.C. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A Utah school district intentionally ignored racial harassment and abuse for years despite repeated complaints, the Justice Department said this week.

Why it matters: An investigation launched in 2019 revealed "persistent failures to respond to reports of race-based harassment of Black and Asian American students by district staff and other students," according to the DOJ.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

FTX CEO predicts more U.S. crypto flight

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

FTX doesn't look much like a company valued at $25 billion. Its new headquarters, located in a sleepy part of The Bahamas, is so nondescript as to not even have a sign. But it does expect to soon have neighbors.

Driving the news: Founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried tells "Axios on HBO" to expect "more and more crypto flight from the states" if the U.S. doesn't soon create a regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies.

Developed countries reveal $100 billion climate finance plan ahead of COP26

Alok Sharma, head of the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, speaks in Paris on Oct. 12. ( Li Yang/China News Service via Getty Images)

After 12 years of fits and starts, industrialized nations on Monday put forward a detailed plan to provide at least $100 billion annually in climate aid to developing countries starting by 2023.

Why it matters: The plan, presented by representatives of Canada and Germany, is aimed at defusing one of the biggest sources of tension at COP26, which is the failure of industrialized nations to follow through on their financial commitments.