Governor: New Mexico National Guard Could Help Fill Shortage of Public Schools | Local news

As the daily number of COVID-19 cases climbed to a record high and schools across the state pondered plans for distance learning, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Thursday what may be an unprecedented proposal: move New Mexico National Guard employees to the campus of the public Bringing schools to help with labor shortages.

The move could be a first in the US, the Associated Press reported.

“We have a proposal that I believe doesn’t exist anywhere in the country that we can do to get facilities that can productively and safely support our schools to keep them open,” Lujan Grisham said during a press conference on Thursday in Albuquerque.

“And we’ve already communicated with the Santa Fe Public Schools; we think we can empower them, ”added Lujan Grisham.

An announcement with more details would be made shortly, she said.

Santa Fe Public Schools are moving to distance learning next week amid student absenteeism, teacher shortages, and issues with COVID-19 testing requirements keep pace.

Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez was unable to be reached late Thursday afternoon to confirm the district’s talks with the governor’s office. Earlier this week, he said the district was well on its way to reaching more than 600 COVID-19 infections among its students and staff.

At a school committee meeting Thursday evening, Chavez said 800 students were absent on Wednesday while 64 employees were on sick leave – many of them due to anxiety.

Lujan Grisham’s announcement came as state health officials reported 5,547 new COVID-19 cases – setting a new daily record – and 36 additional deaths.

The National Guard provided many forms of aid during the pandemic, including driving school buses, according to the Associated Press. However, it was unclear what kind of assistance the New Mexico Guard would provide in public schools.

Neither the governor’s office, nor the state education department, or the New Mexico National Guard were able to come up with a detailed plan.

Lujan Grisham’s spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett wrote in an email Thursday that the governor’s office is considering “possible support for a variety of school staffing positions” as needed.

“This plan is under development – we continue to work on the logistics to make the New Mexico school staff most successful and fastest growing, and we will provide more details as soon as they are complete,” Sackett wrote.

At least 10 of 43 New Mexico schools that announced a move to distance learning this week were mainly due to staff shortages, said Judy Robinson, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Education.

She wrote in an email which positions the National Guard would occupy, “remains to be clarified”.

State Secretary-designate for Public Education, Kurt Steinhaus, “discussed the National Guard project with the governor and he supports it,” wrote Robinson.

She added that the public education department is providing the governor’s office with details of school staffing shortages, an issue that began long before the current surge in COVID-19 cases. New Mexico State University reported a steep surge in teaching positions to over 1,000 in September. The rise in the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis.

Joe Vigil, a New Mexico National Guard spokesman on leave Thursday, said he could not provide any information about plans to teach Guard members in schools. But he said, “We are ready to help.”

Chavez said the staff absence earlier this week was a major factor in the local district’s decision to move to distance learning next week, but he also said that access to adequate tests is required for the district to be able to attend classroom instruction to return.

“I think first and foremost we have to make sure that tests are available,” he said on Tuesday. “Our test site must have enough stock so that we can offer employees and students this opportunity to test.”

As part of the state’s test-to-stay program, unvaccinated students and staff must undergo a test to stay on campus if exposed to an infected person.

In a press release on Tuesday, he also cited contact tracing issues. “With so many positive cases, we cannot continue to comply with state contact tracing,” he said. “This was an additional requirement from the districts during the pandemic.”

The Department of Public Education announced Tuesday that the New Mexico Department of Health is offering rapid antigen testing to schools to participate in mandatory testing programs for unvaccinated staff and students as supplies of rapid PCR tests are running low.

Chavez told school boards Thursday that the company running the Test to Stay program, Premier Medical Group, had notified the county that rapid PCR tests were no longer available. The program now uses PCR laboratory tests, which can take up to two days to process.

“This means there will be delays in the return of staff and students to school or work,” Chavez said.

He added long lines at the district testing site outside the Aspen Community Magnet School, which had shortened in recent days after the Premier Medical Group hired additional staff.

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