Teachers and staff in Santa Fe Public Schools will be required to return to campus once they receive the COVID-19 vaccine, under an agreement announced Thursday.

The district and the National Education Association-Santa Fe teachers union announced the agreement as pressure from parents to get more students into the classroom continues to build.

Superintendent Veronica García said in an interview the memorandum of understanding between the district and the union, which both sides agreed to in February, also includes teachers who had an opportunity to get a vaccine but declined. Those in that category must return to the classroom, she said.

The district opened all of its schools Feb. 22 to hybrid learning, in which students receive at least two days of on-campus instruction per week with three days of remote learning. At the time, just 290 of 1,087 teachers and support staff members volunteered to report to campuses. García said 13 teachers and staff members returned to school this week.

The district did not require all teachers and staff members to return, instead arranging with union leaders to seek “volunteers” to help with hybrid learning.

The district had enough volunteers to bring 1,776 of its 12,500 students back to school, with another 1,990 on a waiting list.

García said the district wants to make it clear teachers are committed to returning to school so students can do the same.

“We want to reiterate that to everybody because there is a lot of confusion out there and a lot parents are mad because children aren’t back in school, and I totally understand that,” García said.

In a news release Thursday, the district said no employee is required to get a vaccination, but only teachers and staff members with an accommodation to work from home will not be required to return to in-person teaching during the 2020-21 school year. García said about 300 people have an accommodation.

Grace Mayer, president of NEA-Santa Fe, said the union has been adamant that teachers and support staff members want to return to campus, but having the ability to be vaccinated was equally important. Mayer said she and García worked together to write letters to state leaders emphasizing educators needed to be near the front of the vaccination line because of their role as educators.

Their pleas received a boost when President Joe Biden announced Tuesday he intends to use the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to fast-track vaccines for educators, with the goal of inoculating all by the end of the month.

“Hopefully, with more vaccines available, teachers and educators will get vaccinated, and be coming back after that,” Mayer said.

García and Mayer said a Thursday news release about the agreement was intended to address rumors they heard from some parents that teachers would not return to the classroom until students were vaccinated.

“We are eager to get back into the classroom,” Mayer said. “But we’re also eager to get vaccinated and move past some of this and get back to a more integrated kind of community. It just takes time.”

Melissa Maestas, a mother of two students at Santa Fe High, said the agreement is important in helping open schools to more students. While one son, a senior, elected to remain in remote learning, the other, a sophomore, returned to campus because he needs in-person instruction.

“The way it has worked has benefited my son because some of his teachers are back in school and they can get together,” Maestas said.

However, the frustration from some parents is boiling over. During Thursday’s school district board meeting, parent Martha Jackson accused the union and García of thinking of only themselves instead of students.

“Thus far, the union appears to be adhering to an unidentified dogma that prevents their belief in the science of ever opening schools,” Jackson said. “It is no different from climate change deniers. It is no different from anti-vaxxers. It is no different from anti-maskers.”

García said that as more teachers come back to campus, some schools will change learning models. The popular one many district schools are employing is a model that creates “internet hubs,” where students learn remotely at individual work stations.

García added she is hopeful schools can eventually transition to a more traditional in-person teaching environment, even if it happens for the 2021-22 school year.

“There are the parents who want their children to come back that haven’t been able to and are expressing it more,” García said. “But we still have a large percentage of families and parents that are hesitant about coming back.”

(9) comments

Michael Schneider

The PR looks better than the actual MOU! Given that NMDOH's vaccine 1(b) rollout schedule is estimated to last through the end of spring and teacher's are not compelled (only encouraged) to disclose if and when they are vaccinated, the current school year will expire prior to a more meaningful return to in person learning.

Grace Mayer

Mr. Schneider, Medical records are protected under confidentiality privacy laws. The District cannot compel staff to just turn them over. Educators are eager to return to the classroom and will go back as soon as they are fully vaccinated because they are professionals with integrity. Educators/staff are starting to get called now for their first shots of the vaccine so you can expect a lot of staff back by mid April if not sooner. MOU's are legal binding agreements not "PR." Santa Fe Public School students are back in Hybrid learning currently as you are well aware.

Stephen Hauf

I am a returning unvaccinated teacher. I maintain high expectation of mask wearing and social distancing for the limited number of students who are able to be in my classroom (currently space for 11). My classroom is window less. but it has a high capacity Hepa filtration machine. Here I am safe, but it's all the space in between my classroom that I believe I am at greatest risk for Covid-19. I want to be vaccinated ASAP, but resent having to go to Colorado or Texas during Spring break to get it done.

Lee DiFiore

Thank you for the courage to return for in-person learning before being vaccinated. Sounds like you put the kiddos first.

Lisa Jo Goldman

Yeah, and yesterday, Lee, you completely flamed me for being an at-risk teacher who is unwilling to return because I am one of the 300 on a medical waiver. You have NO idea how hard we work from home; how much my students love me despite the restrictions, and how much I love them. You tell me to "go back to end of the line" in an ad hominem attack that has nothing to do with the actual information in the article. If you are unhappy with public education, then quit complaining: TAKE action. Call your legislators. Be a leader. Educator yourself. Quit using this forum to denigrate those of us who are at a high-risk for exposure and death, and whose loved ones are also in that category because of age and chronic illness. I will return, as well all will, when we are all safely vaccinated. We promise. How about those who choose NOT to get vaccinated because of religious beliefs (legitimate) and anti-vax conspiracy theories (illegitimate). Did you notice the those who CHOOSE not to be vaccinated must still return to school to teach. How do you feel about that?

Lee DiFiore

You all should have been in school the entire time as "the science" said. In case you missed it, my thanks to Stephen was because he had the courage to go back to the in-person environment, despite the "danger". And finally, I have taken action at the government level being a constant advocate of vouchers so that parents can have a real choice of where to send their kids and not be forced into the toxic environment that is our public education system. If nothing else, the last 12 months have proved that point.

Jim Klukkert

Lee DiFiore- there is no commonly accepted Science that said "You all [teachers] should have been in school the entire time as "the science" said."

Your endless lies earn your politics the most terrible reputation. I do delight in your determination to stay on these pages, as it gives other educators unending opportunities to shred, and re-shred, your baseless positions.

So who is it that displays the benefits of public education: teachers or nay-sayers like Lee DiFiore and David Cartwright? No contest, obviously, the teachers!

Lee DiFiore

A very tiny ray of hope in what is a sea of darkness that is the public education system.

Jerry Appel

The only reason this is a controversial issue is the vocal minority effect. When a minority of the community is fully committed to their point of view and refuses to compromise or negotiate, you get this situation on any topic: gun control, election fraud, vaccines, et cetera. I have to applaud SFPS and the union for standing up to the vocal and even abusive minority for taking a sensible approach. I just retired from teaching, and I have received my first Moderna vaccine, yet I would not feel comfortable teaching in a classroom full of students without full mitigation protocols, and I would not teach if I had any student come into my room that defied those protocols. If administration did not support removing that defiant student or students from my classroom they can find another person to teach that class.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.