As the daily count of COVID-19 cases rose to a record number and strained schools statewide considered plans for remote learning, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday what might be an unprecedented proposal: bringing New Mexico National Guard staff onto public school campuses to help with worker shortages.

The move might be a first in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.

“We have a proposal that I don’t think exists anywhere in the nation about what we can do about getting bodies who productively and safely can support our schools to stay open,” Lujan Grisham said during a news conference Thursday in Albuquerque.

“And we’ve already been in communication with Santa Fe Public Schools; we think that we can bolster them,” Lujan Grisham added.

An announcement with more details would come soon, she said.

Santa Fe Public Schools is switching to remote learning next week due to high numbers of student absences, teacher shortages and problems keeping up with COVID-19 testing demands.

Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez could not be reached late Thursday afternoon to confirm the district’s discussions with the Governor’s Office. Earlier this week, he said the district was on track to reach more than

600 COVID-19 infections among its students and staff.

At a school board meeting Thursday night, Chavez said 800 students were absent Wednesday, while 64 staff members were out on medical leave — including many for anxiety.

Lujan Grisham’s announcement came as state health officials reported

5,547 new COVID-19 cases — setting a new daily record — and 36 additional deaths.

The National Guard has provided many forms of aid during the pandemic, including driving school buses, according to the Associated Press. But it was unclear what type of help the New Mexico Guard would provide in public schools.

Neither the Governor’s Office nor the state Public Education Department or the New Mexico National Guard was able to provide a detailed plan.

Lujan Grisham’s spokeswoman, Nora Meyers Sackett, wrote in an email Thursday the Governor’s Office is considering “potential supports for a variety of staffing roles within schools,” depending on their needs.



“This plan is in development — we continue to work through the logistics of how to most successfully and quickly augment New Mexico’s school staff and will announce additional details as soon as they are finalized,” Sackett wrote.

At least 10 out of 43 New Mexico schools that announced a shift to remote learning this week based the decision largely on staffing shortages, Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said.

She wrote in an email the types of positions the National Guard would fill “remains to be determined.”

Public Education Secretary-designate Kurt Steinhaus “has discussed the National Guard project with the Governor and he supports it,” Robinson wrote.

She added the Public Education Department is providing the Governor’s Office with details on school staffing shortages, a problem that began long before the current surge in COVID-19 cases. New Mexico State University reported a steep rise in teacher vacancies to more than 1,000 in September. The pandemic’s spike has exacerbated the crisis.

Joe Vigil, a spokesman for the New Mexico National Guard who was on leave Thursday, said he was not able to provide information on the plans for putting Guard members in schools. But, he said, “We stand ready to assist.”

Chavez said earlier this week staff absences were a large factor in the local district’s decision to switch to remote learning next week, but he also said access to adequate testing is necessary for the district to return to classroom learning.

“I think first and foremost we need to ensure tests are available,” he said Tuesday. “Our testing site needs to be adequately in stock so we can provide that opportunity for staff and students to test.”

Under the state’s Test to Stay program, unvaccinated students and staff must undergo testing to remain on campus if they have been exposed to an infected person.

In a news release Tuesday, he also cited problems with contact tracing. “We cannot continue to meet the state’s contact-tracing requirements given such large numbers of positive cases,” he said. “This has been an additional requirement of districts during the pandemic.”

The Public Education Department told districts Tuesday the New Mexico Department of Health is providing rapid antigen tests for schools to participate in mandatory testing programs for unvaccinated staff and students as supplies of rapid PCR tests fall short.

Chavez told the school board Thursday the company that runs the Test to Stay program, Premier Medical Group, informed the district it had no more rapid PCR tests available. In the meantime, the program is relying on PCR lab tests, which can take up to two days to process.

“This means there will be a delay in getting staff and students back in school or their place of work,” Chavez said.

He added long lines at the district’s testing site outside Aspen Community Magnet School has shortened in recent days after Premier Medical Group hired additional staff.

(11) comments

Nicholas Freedman

SFPS has collapsed. My kid's school doesn't have the staff to safely keep the school open. The Guard could help with the buses, eyeballs on the kids at recess, run the cafeteria, answer the phones, do contact tracing and even sub for teachers. Why not? They did a great job during the vaccination.

I never thought I would advocate people in uniform in the schools but otherwise public education ends in Santa Fe until wages and conditions for staff and teachers improve, and those things aren't going to happen for a long time.

Thanks for your service Guardspeople.

Ernie Templeton

With ideas like these, no wonder NM is last place in education and most everything else - jobs, economy, covid, etc. With leadership like this, NM will just keep falling further behind.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Lyndell Vallner

How about sending the National Guard to the southern border instead...to protect us all from the influx of Illegals crossing into New Mexico or migrating here from distant illegal border crossings.

William Walker

Given how many citizens are quiting their lousy jobs, we might want to consider a new worker program that would let those wanting to come to the United States to work at low-paying jobs in health care, agriculture, and the service industry. For emaple, the need for nursing home workers is growing daily.

Angel Ortiz

Seriously? Susanna used this as her platform and failed. Protection from illegals? Worry about the guy next door....

Chris Mechels

As with so many of our Little Governor's "bright ideas" its "Open Mouth, Insert Foot". Then the chaos follows. Her "management" style, from the earliest days is "proactive". Everyone should run off to do wonderful things, and she, as Governor, will "cover" for them. This explains why so much of her government is ILLEGAL, because SHE is illegal in her approach. She needs a "civics" class, on how the Executive Branch 'executes" our Laws, not her Whims. This seem to elude her.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Mike Johnson

Sure, they could make good teachers and administrators, right?

Angel Ortiz

Or you could volunteer Mike. You have a PhD right?

Emily Koyama

As a soldier in Germany my husband drove Team buses to their games on weekends...

He was in uniform as well.

However this was on a military base going to other military bases.

I'm not sure if having having uniformed soldiers on school grounds is the right decision.

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