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FULL ENGAGEMENT, ALMOST

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Schools to reopen to 50 percent capacity in February

“Every school district in the state will be able to welcome all ages of students safely back to the classroom on Feb. 8,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in her 2021 State of the State address, Jan. 26.

She spoke on the issues of grief, funding, economic growth, solar energy, recreational cannabis, and public education.

Proclaiming that there is no substitute for in-person learning, she said, her administration has worked with teachers, school support staff, superintendents, charter leaders, the department of health, the medical advisory team, and National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers to enhance the safety of school buildings and expand surveillance testing.

“Our state has developed a solid and epidemiologically-sound plan for a safe expansion of in-person learning for all age groups supported by union leadership,” the governor said.

What that means for the Gallup-McKinley County Schools District is that 50 percent of the students will be eligible to return to the classroom.

Superintendent Mike Hyatt says some students are already in GMCS classrooms, but beginning Feb. 9, he expects more.

“We’re excited that parents and students have more options to attend school. Our schools are safe and ready for students to reenter,” he emphasized. “Our staff has done a good job at getting schools ready for kids.”

The current plan is for children to attend classes in-person Monday through Thursday and spend Friday mornings online.

The AFT and AFT New Mexico responded to the governor’s announcement by crediting science and the prioritization of educator and student health and safety.

“We are extremely pleased to see this plan’s embrace of continued COVID-safe practices, among them the strong efforts to safely accommodate high-risk educators, ventilation and classroom air filtration, on-going surveillance testing, sanitation protocols, adequate personal protective equipment, and transportation and isolation protocols. Coupled with local control, [there are now more] options for families to choose what is best for their student.”

OTHER EDUCATION-RELATED ISSUES

The governor announced plans to enact an equity-first budget for public education. This budget will ensure that money reaches students and schools in proportion to the socio-economic needs of families and the community. She said this work will create a path to a public education system that truly delivers for students now and a hundred years from now, no matter their zip code, their family’s circumstances, or the color of their skin.

“We will tackle reforms in and special education beginning with a new ombudsman office, focused squarely on the needs of differently-abled New Mexico students and their families,” she said.

Lujan Grisham said this year New Mexico will move forward with a constitutional amendment to invest a portion of the state’s wealth in early childhood education and wellbeing.

This will be the opportunity to make a generational investment in New Mexico’s children.

We will deploy funding to realize free higher education for all New Mexicans.

With seed money from the legislature in 2020, Lujan Grisham said it was possible to reach almost 5,000 students with the Opportunity Scholarship, fully covering their tuition costs and fees at two-year institutions.

She went on to call on the New Mexico Legislature to commit the full $22 million in funding she is requesting this year, which she believes will allow 30,000 more New Mexicans access to higher education in two-year institutions, without worrying about tuition and fees.

“New Mexico institutions of higher learning had the nation’s largest decrease in returning students last year,” she said. “New Mexico should once again lead the nation in college opportunity.”

“This funding is a vote of confidence in New Mexicans — a proclamation of faith in their potential. In colleges all across N. M., we must enact any and every strategy to improve educational outcomes for New Mexicans, particularly those that connect young learners and adults directly to the workforce.”

By Beth Blakeman
Associate Editor

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