School was out for winter break, but that didn’t mean TJ Parks was off the clock.

Parks, the school superintendent in Hobbs, said his cellphone never stopped ringing as administrators from across the state wanted to inquire about one thing: the COVID-19 vaccinations Hobbs teachers and staff members received Dec. 30.

They saw photos of about 100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine distributed to Hobbs Municipal Schools employees on the district’s Facebook page and wanted to know how it happened.

They also wanted to know how their districts might be able to do the same thing.

“My phone was pretty active for a couple of days,” Parks said with a chuckle. “It was a rather interesting time.”

The answer education leaders were looking for came Friday, when the state Department of Health included teachers and staff members in its Phase 1B distribution list, which means they will be next in line for vaccines.

It was welcome news for school administrators eager to reopen schools in a traditional format as soon as possible.

“This is terrific news,” said Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools. “This puts us one step closer to being able to bring kids back to campus, which I think is the best place to be.”

Hobbs got a jump-start, but Parks said it wasn’t planned.

Nor-Lea Hospital in nearby Lovington gave the Hobbs school district its remaining doses after treating its front-line health care workers, Parks said. Because the vaccines’ shelf life is short, administrators had to figure out what to do with the hospital’s excess supply. David Shaw, CEO of Nor-Lea Hospital, called Parks to see if the district would be interested in using them for its employees.

Parks didn’t hesitate.

“In order to get our community back to some normalcy and back to where our economy can get moving again, we have to get schools going,” Parks said. “As long as schools are shut down, you have some aspects of parents who can’t leave [their homes] because of their children.”

The drumbeat for placing educators high on the priority list was growing louder as the pandemic rolled into its 10th month, especially because most school districts remain in remote learning. García said getting teachers vaccinated will help bring students back to the classroom sooner and help them recover lost learning time. The district reported in November more than 38 percent of students in grades 3-12 failed at least one class during the first nine weeks of school.



García said another trickle-down effect teacher vaccinations could have is slowing enrollment declines that most school districts have experienced. Santa Fe Public Schools saw its 40-day enrollment shrink from 12,603 in 2019-20 to 12,033, a loss of 4.5 percent. She also emphasized the social and emotional well-being of students is being compromised as they remain at home.

The concerns prompted García and National Education Association-Santa Fe President Grace Mayer to pen letters last week to the Public Education Department and the Department of Health, imploring them to consider teachers as essential workers and give them greater priority on the vaccination list.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart called the Health Department’s decision to prioritize teachers a crucial step in a return to in-person learning. The Public Education Department did not lay out a clear timetable for when school employees can receive the vaccine but referred them to the Health Department’s vaccine registration website, cvvaccine.nmhealth.org.

“Prioritizing educators early in the vaccine distribution process shows New Mexico’s continuing commitment to the health and safety of these vital frontline workers in whose hands we entrust the future of our children,” Stewart said in a statement.

Daniel Benavidez, superintendent of Central Consolidated Schools, a district in the northwest corner of the state, said vaccinations also will provide needed economic relief because school districts are major employers in many areas. He said teachers and staff see themselves as caretakers for the students.

“We see our kids — and I mean custodians, food-service workers, teachers — in some ways more than the parents,” Benavidez said. “All I can say is this is great news for our community, our teachers and the school district.”

Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of National Education Association-New Mexico, said teachers might be the face of the vaccine discussion, but other district employees are just as essential. She said bus drivers, councilors and those who work in the cafeterias and front offices often work just as closely with students and the public.

“I know how important opening schools is,” Parr-Sanchez said. “What is important to me is that every educator and every student is coming back to a safe and equitable environment that they can thrive in.”

While Hobbs Municipal Schools’ actions sparked a debate about the importance of vaccinating teachers, Parks said the district also wanted to give an important public service message about the safety of the vaccine. He said employees’ skepticism about taking the vaccine is a microcosm of the general public’s concerns. He hopes teachers seeing their colleagues getting their first round of shots might encourage others to change their minds.

“We really try to push out to our parents and our community that we are trying to be proactive,” Parks said. “When we get our students back on campus, we will provide the safest environment we can.”

Marcos Gallegos, a physical education teacher at Santa Fe’s Capital High School, said he would be one of the first teachers in line for the vaccine, even if he has some concerns about potential side effects. He said he is willing to sacrifice his personal feelings for the good of students.

“It’s worth throwing the dice,” Gallegos said. “We need to get back to some sort of normalcy, and if it takes teachers and coaches to take it to get kids back from who knows where they’re at, we should do it.”

(17) comments

Richard Forrest

It sounds great that teachers have lobbied for and are now in group two, 1B. Included 16 year olds and up with higher risk, such as being overweight. One coat of this change in that seniors 65+ are punched back. I don’t know how disease the children are proven to carry or how many teachers have died, but 65+ seniors reportedly make up 80% of all deaths from Covid-19. I’ve always heard “the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging”. Well vaccinating those 65+ (75+ are in 1B already) would be the stop digging equivalent. So we, 65+, get squeezed out at the front AND tat the back now that 1C is to start at age 60. What happened to following the science and why is NM hanging out to dry the most likely to die?

Jim Klukkert

Richard Forrest- you have my sympathy, and being 65+, my full attention.

My partner and I have kept ourselves rigorously isolated. as difficult as that is sometimes. My most regular social contact is the UPS guy, who is awesome. Being a fairly social person, I miss seeing family and friends. My partner and I are blessed to live in rural New Mexico, where the natural environment offers much solace.

I cannot imagine how folks who have to work around others, or worse yet, serve the public, are getting by knowing that their health is at risk.

Certainly our older folks, as well as anyone at risk, must have the option of staying home. This is only a real option with Federal Government financial assistance. It is the job of the national government to defend this country, and now that defense calls for whatever it takes to let people fully quarantine.

A needs based Coronavirus Relief financial assistance program should have the same Biden/Harris administration priority as getting vaccines into our people. I understand that is Priority One.

Email, write or call your Congressional Representatives as well as local leaders. We can get this done with Democrats at the Helm.

Until then Richard, my best thoughts to you, be well, stay healthy.

Karen HARE

As an employee at Santa Fe High and a mother of a Freshmen this is exciting news. I registered for the vaccine weeks ago when the link first came out. Living in a world where I am surrounded with my job and my family involved in school this is so important and I am grateful to be able to get this done as soon as possible.

Lee DiFiore

I posted a comment on this story yesterday which has since been deleted by the New Mexican at jimbo's request. It appears the paper and jimbo do not appreciate when someone questions why teachers should be moved to the front of the vaccination queue ahead of grocery store, fast food and other workers who have been face-to-face with the virus since day one. After all, teachers have been at home the entire time. We seem to be living where leftists, big tech and the mainstream media suppress speech and ideas they do not agree with. Dangerous times indeed.

Jim Klukkert

No one is attempting to suppress your opinion Lee DiFiore, or you would not see your comment above on this page. We do appreciate a free and civil discussion of issues. Your comment, Teachers have been cowering at home saying 'it's too dangerous to work’,” was most uncivil, and just too insulting to let it stand.

Yesterday you tried to deflect from comments regarding Alt-Right's dramatic treason of last week, by making distorting comments the Civil Rights movement and events of last summer.

You promised “I'll talk about last week as soon as you talk about last summer.”

To see that I fulfilled my end of the bargain go to the web site below.

Your turn Lee.

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/boys-is-the-right-term-for-those-yahoos/article_a1ed2d9c-513b-11eb-80ca-e370a1422f44.html

Lee DiFiore

Like the two CNN reporters standing in front of burning buildings calling them "mostly peaceful protests" and "not generally speaking unruly", it's hard to argue with that level of logic jimbo.

Jim Klukkert

Lee as long as you make your case with distortions and without substantiation, you will find it hard to argue with a brick wall, much less a living breathing soul.

So go hang with your fictional CNN friends, or maybe the Fascist Trumpian Thugs that you so idolize, but will not/cannot defend, despite your promises to do so.

So sad, so consistent, Lee Deflect!

Lee DiFiore

Here you go jimbo, videos of my two fictional CNN friends at mostly peaceful protests https://thehill.com/homenews/media/513902-cnn-ridiculed-for-fiery-but-mostly-peaceful-caption-with-video-of-burning

Jim Klukkert

Hey Great Lee, you have two friends! We were so afraid you might be lonely!

Now discuss, as promised, the sedition and insurrection by traitorous thugs last Wednesday. Or do you want to stick with deflection, distractions and distortions.

No one on the pages believes you anymore, Lee.

Comment deleted.
Jim Klukkert

In a comment by Lee DiFiore on the SFNM story "New Mexico's coronavirus tally: 1,507 new cases, 22 more deaths” written at Jan 10, 2021 12:54p, Mr. DiFiore seems to be ignorant of the most basic Covid-19 protocols, including social distancing, PPE [personal protection equipment], frequent monitoring for symptoms and testing as deemed necessary by medical authorities.

It is puzzling that someone so uniformed regarding the Pandemic, should feel qualified to comment on the efforts to deal with this scourge in any setting, much less one filled with children.

Please educate yourself, Mr. DiFiore, so that your comments are clarify issues rather than confuse and muddy the issues.

Thanks.

Comment deleted.
Jim Klukkert

What is absolutely 'disgraceful' Lee DiFiore, is your accusation that teachers have been "cowering at home saying 'it's too dangerous to work.'"

That is an insulting charge with no basis in fact, and should be flagged as abuse. Which I shall do as soon as I add this-

If you think so little of the character of teachers, Mr. DiFirore, why would you ever charge them with the education of our young people?

Carl Friedrichs

Kathleen, teachers are in the line. They are part of the essential work force and the sooner teachers are immunized the sooner we will have kids back in school. Remember there are no vaccines for kids under 16 so teachers need the vaccines just like other essential workers. I am a physician, I treat patients with Covid. I see patients in my office. I just got my second vaccine yesterday. The arm is a little sore but no other side effects. I would strongly recommend that we all get vaccinated as soon as we can.

Kathleen Reyes

Teachers should not jump the line. They should get the vaccine when they return to work/school. Only those at risk of contact with those that potentially could have the virus should be receiving the vaccine. Not those who have been doing their job virtually with no or minimal contact with potentially infected people. The vaccine should go to first responders, hospital workers, etc. #1, then nursing home residents and those working there #2. then by age 65 and older as other states are doing and essential workers such as grocery store workers #3. The age criteria should take care of a lot of teachers. All others should get the vaccine when they return to work!!

Grace Mayer

Education employees are already back in school buildings, we never left! Some employees never had an option to work remotely. Nutrition, Transportation, Custodians, Secretaries, Administration, Educational Assistants, Nurses and Teachers in the Remote and Hybrid model have been in schools working and teaching. If the community wants schools to open fully, all the staff at our schools need the option of taking the vaccine as soon as possible. We are as essential as those designated as such. We are not "jumping the line" ahead of first responders or healthcare workers or those in senior living facilities. Teachers and other education employees have died and gotten sick with COVID just like other workers . We grieve for them as we do for our family members that have passed. Why is it that people think it is unreasonable for education employees to expect to be vaccinated prior to being forced back into the classroom? The lack of a National response to the Pandemic and the slow role out of the vaccine created this situation NOT educators or other workers. I urge all Education employees to register with the NMDOH for the vaccine and get vaccinated as soon as we are called to do so. We will have to return slowly in the Hybrid model with small groups wearing masks, social distancing and following safety protocols but it is the first step to returning to schools. The best place for our students are in our public schools with their Teachers and peers.

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