Santa Fe school board members remained noncommittal about the possibility of a vaccine mandate for staff members at a virtual meeting Thursday night.
District 1 member Carmen Gonzales said she and Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez recently met with a group of parents who asked that the board explore requiring vaccinations for staff members.
The two didn’t specify which school community the parents were from. Among the schools Gonzales represents is Acequia Madre Elementary, where a recent COVID-19 outbreak traced to a first grade teacher resulted in at least 10 student cases.
“I appreciate we’ve had a terrifying number of cases in our schools, and I think things are pretty raw right now,” said board President Kate Noble. “It feels like a tinderbox, and I hope that we can keep things calm, responsive. … I want us to be careful.”
Noble praised Chavez for arranging a day of remote learning Tuesday, reportedly to slow the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the Thanksgiving break.
Chavez said COVID-19 protocols, including the enforcement of masking among students, should be revisited and strengthened prior to any conversation about a mandate.
He said discussion over a mandate “could take some time to look into.”
Locally, New Mexico School for the Deaf and Santa Fe Indian School both have staff vaccine mandates, while large districts in New York and Los Angeles have received attention for their regulations.
School board members expressed concern that enforcing vaccinations on school campuses could prompt teachers to leave, exacerbating staffing issues.
Data from September showed just over 88 percent of high school teachers were fully vaccinated, alongside nearly 93 percent of preschool and elementary school teachers in the district.
During the meeting, District 2 member and secretary Sarah Boses said parents should consider how they would feel if their child’s teacher quit over a vaccine mandate.
Boses turned her attention to late board member Lorraine Price, who made clear her support for a vaccine mandate shortly before her death in late August. The Santa Fe chapter of the National Education Association also called for a mandate among staff early in the school year.
“I understand the cases we’re seeing for the most part are reflective of community spread,” Boses said. “Yet we recently saw a situation at one of our schools where spread did happen in the classroom and it had quite a large ripple effect in our community.”
She added: “I would not be living up to my promise of thinking, ‘What would Lorraine Price do?’ if I did not say this is why she supported a vaccine mandate for teachers and school staff.”
Boses called for an open community conversation on the possibility.
Also Thursday, Chavez said the district would host another vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11 on Saturday at Desert Sage Academy. Last week’s clinic reached capacity at 500 students.
National Education Association Santa Fe President Grace Mayer outlined the union’s legislative priorities during the meeting, including a 10 percent increase to teacher pay and a $15 minimum wage for all school staff members.
Mayer called teacher staffing issues “acute” and said Santa Fe’s lack of affordable housing was exacerbating retention issues, as was an increased workload.
The board also heard an initial reading of a policy that, if passed, will authorize students and staff members at Santa Fe Public Schools to administer naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
High school students would be able to learn to administer the drug in health class, and all school staff would be trained as well. The policy would also allow trained people to carry naloxone, and for it to be stored on school property.
“We believe the adoption of this policy and the action of the board is time-sensitive given how we know our students are engaging in drug use,” student wellness director Sue O’Brien said.