Capital High School junior Max Quintana said he contracted COVID-19 and had a family member die of the illness.

Like most high schoolers in the state, he has been learning remotely since the pandemic hit New Mexico in March. He misses sports and the social interaction of learning on campus, he said, but he’s also worried about the risks of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s new plan, announced Tuesday, to allow school districts statewide to open classrooms to all students Feb. 8.

Quintana said he won’t return to campus until he has access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Local school leaders and teachers share his concern and say classrooms in Santa Fe won’t open until all educators who want the vaccine can get it.

“Our educators will return to the classroom when they’re vaccinated,” said Grace Mayer, a teacher at Milagro Middle School and president of the National Education Association-Santa Fe. “We’ve waited so long. We should not give up on ensuring that level of safety when we’re so close.”

The announcement by Lujan Grisham and the Public Education Department that schools can reopen using a hybrid model — combining in-person classes and remote learning from home — came less than a week after the Department of Health began canceling some vaccination clinics for teachers. The agency said it was refocusing its vaccine distribution efforts on higher-priority people: residents 75 and older and those 16 and older with a medical condition that makes them vulnerable to a severe illness.

Previously, a muddled message about who was eligible for the vaccine led to many teachers and other essential workers receiving shots out of turn. It’s now unclear when the rest of the state’s teachers will be able to get vaccinated.

Most students will have to wait even longer than teachers.

Quintana fears an outbreak could occur if classrooms open at Capital High.

“Yeah, I miss my friends, and yeah, I want to get back to school,” he said, “but I don’t think sitting in class for eight hours is worth the risk, even it means going back to track practice.”

Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said a survey showed 99 percent of teachers in the district want the vaccine, and she has been working with the Department of Health and private providers to find a way to get doses for them.

She noted the implementation of a hybrid model would come close to spring break, when the state could see another spike in coronavirus cases, as it did during the holiday season.

“Our priority is the vaccine,” García said. “If there’s an outbreak and a school has to close again, all that can be very disruptive.”

Under the reopening plan, which would allow public middle and high schools to open for the first time since March, only 50 percent of students could be on campus at one time.

The Public Education Department said schools would have to follow strict safety protocols. Those in counties with a “red” status, meaning virus caseloads and test positivity rates remain higher than the state’s targeted threshold, would have to conduct virus testing of 25 percent of staff each week.

Districts in counties with a “yellow” or “green” status would have to test 12.5 percent of staff members.

Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said in a news conference Tuesday districts choosing to launch a hybrid-learning model must pass site inspections conducted by the Public Education Department with the help of local fire marshals.

“It’s a chance for school leaders to show all of the efforts that have taken place to make sure our schools are safe,” he said.

Stewart noted several school workers remain eligible for vaccinations: teachers who are 75 and older, school nurses and staff members who work with medically fragile students.

Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said a significant number of educators also could have high-risk medical conditions making them eligible for the vaccine. He cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found 49.9 percent of Americans have a COVID-19 risk factor.

“Preexisting conditions and risk factors for COVID are fairly prevalent in our population,” Scrase said.

Department of Health spokesman Matt Bieber said more than 500,000 of the state’s 2.2 million residents are in the high-risk category.

Despite the plan to reopen public schools, he said the state will not alter its vaccination distribution schedule.

Leaders of the state’s largest teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and the National Education Association-New Mexico, blasted the agency in a news release Tuesday morning for its decision to cancel a recent teacher vaccination clinic for workers in Rio Rancho Public Schools.

“The last minute cancellation of distribution of vaccines to Rio Rancho Public School Employees is a cruel and short-sighted decision by the New Mexico Department of Health,” the statement said.

NEA-New Mexico later issued a statement lauding the governor’s decision to allow districts to reopen classrooms, though it urged school leaders to ensure teachers receive “priority in the vaccination rollout.”

Without a clear timeline for teacher vaccinations, reopening plans vary among districts.

Some are trying to ensure teachers get their shots, regardless of the state’s priority list.

Martin Madrid, superintendent of Santa Rosa Consolidated Schools, said a local hospital had enough doses for his entire staff of around 160.

His schools could start hybrid instruction for all students in February, he said.

Superintendent Chris Gutierrez of the West Las Vegas School District said most of his teachers were turned away from a recent vaccination event in San Miguel County, and he wasn’t sure the district could launch hybrid learning next month.

State Rep. G. Andrés Romero, a history teacher at Atrisco Heritage High School in Albuquerque, said he worried that switching from remote learning to a hybrid model could be an added stress on teachers and students who already strained. He urged caution to districts considering the option.

“Another recalibration in the middle of the school year might be tough,” Romero said.

“Remember, switching to a hybrid model is not a 1 to 1 from what we’ve been doing. There would be some new elements to figure out,” he said. “Not to mention the safety concerns for everyone involved. I hope school districts take that message into account.”

(19) comments

Barry Rabkin

Until the teachers and teachers' aides, school administrative staff, and bus drivers are vaccinated, the Governor is effectively playing Russian Roulette with all of these adults' health and lives. (I'm part of the science-led group rather than bringing kids back to school is more important that peoples' lives group.)

Karry Howard

They are not going to use my children as guinea pigs to test out this RNA vaccine. If the teachers that are afraid to come back to school choose to get inoculated, how will they be in jeopardy of catching the Covid flu if the vaccine actually works?

No matter how safe they try to make this vaccination sound, not even the great Dr. Faucci has a clue of the long term effects it will have on people. All three of my children have all of their regular vaccinations. I am not an anti-vaxxer like some will certainly claim. I have seen too many videos of people having adverse reactions to this shot and I'm sorry, it's just not worth the chance of that happening to one of my kids. The teachers need to put on their big person pants and remember the slogan my body my rights while they are demanding every student be forced to have this injected into their bodies.

Carolyn Cc

The vaccine is not approved for children and no one has required older teens to be vaccinated, so why are you concerned?

Carlos Vasquez

right? must be a political nose frat


Tom Watters

Funny, I haven't been in favor of a lot the Governor's decisions to close down the businesses and schools but lived with it, but now we have vaccines that are 95% effective, repeat 95%, and she chooses now to play russian roulette with our educators and students lives?? What is the rush now to open schools, must be working on her re-election. I'm just blown away with the stupidity of this decision.

Miguel Angel Acosta

Yes, the Governor and PED sec have released their hold on public school reopening, BUT, local districts must still follow the guidelines based on county conditions and of course the local school board has ultimate authority. They are our elected representatives and will hear from stakeholders, including parents, students, community organizations and advocates, but they will also hear from the business community and other local governments and elected officials who want to see the economy open up, and that requires releasing working class parents from childcare and Learning from Home responsibilities. Higher Income parents can work from home or can afford to hire others to care for their children.

Santa Fe is unique in that the public schools serve primarily low income families. Higher income families prefer to send their children to private and charter schools. Yes, we have a very segregated community. But my point here is that those same low income families in the public schools are the front line essential workers that the local economy depends on, albeit at minimum wage or below, and they are also live in the neighborhoods with the highest and fastest growing infection rates. So even as SF County's overall rates of infection and spread may be declining, the rates in the areas of the county where most SFPS students live may not be. Do we pretend that's not the case and that our community is not segregated? So, why not prioritize ALL public school staff as well as all public school families and the neighborhoods with the highest spread of COVID 19. We could then open up Santa Fe's economy much sooner, get children back in school, and get about the business of transforming Santa Fe into a place with economic, social and racial justice.

Tom Watters

Putting students, teachers and other workers in school buildings is beyond absurd without allowing the entire community to be vaccinated first. This must include allowing all family members at home to also be vaccinated before anyone steps foot in a school building. To get to this point and then jump the gun knowing a vaccine is available makes no sense. The school year is already 2/3 of the way done, so finish the year online knowing next school year school will be in the buildings.

Mike Johnson

If the science has changed so much, or the virus is no longer a big problem, then why not open everything back up? If we have to wait for everyone to be vaccinated to open a restaurant or enjoy a football or basketball game, the same rules should apply to schools.

Comment deleted.
Stephen Hauf

You could not be more wrong about this teacher. Enough said in a few minutes I will be google meeting ( googlemeet is like zoom) with my students where they will learn the wonders of organic chemicals and their role in Biology ( Mark- Biology is the study of life)

Philip Taccetta

“Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.”

Why isn’t this enforced? Isn’t using a false identity putting those of us that use our real names at a disadvantage?

Seems to me worse than writing “c*#~p”! Is that really “profanity”?

Carl Krings

To disrupt the schedule again is not really best. Most sources say we will be living with this virus for awhile. I do think its best for kids to come back but I think we are rushing. Lets get all our ducks in a row before we rush in and potentially to more harm than good. We should wait till the start of next school year when everybody has had a chance and feels safer. Does it suck? Yes. Better that everyone feel safe about coming back then to add more stress.

Comment deleted.
Angel Ortiz

Putting teachers, school staff and extended family in harm's way is the most ludicrous idea since Trump said to inject Clorox bas a remedy for the virus. Mr. Nickson, I assume you are not a teacher or a bus driver or in any way affiliated with the educational system. Before you spew out silly and baseless remarks try walking in someone else's shoes for a while. Let me know how that goes!

Elizabeth Jones

Yah!!! This is the best news I’ve read in awhile! Let’s get these kids back in school! :)

Nancy Lockland

Not just yet. Vaccine first before teachers and support staff are put in a bad situation. Finish out the year in remote learning, administer the vaccine during the summer and start school in the fall.

Philip Taccetta


Angel Ortiz


Welcome to the discussion.

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