Public schools in New Mexico are in a hard place right now — attempting to remain open as the pandemic rages, while also dealing with extreme staffing shortages. In Santa Fe, Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez has said the district will do all it can to keep in-person school open.

At the same time, though, he said Santa Fe Public Schools also will be “watching the numbers to make sure we’re making a very educated decision.”

He and members of the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education also should think about this: It’s not just numbers of cases, but the actual experience for children in schools.

Just as we acknowledge remote learning and isolation can damage children, being in school where fear of contagion and disease is rampant can also be harmful. Learning is complicated when you’re worried about becoming sick or making someone you love ill.

Consider, too, that it’s increasingly difficult to find acceptable substitute teachers, not to mention making sure enough bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other staff are on hand. The day is coming when a school can’t open because not enough adults are available to run the place.

It’s also possible remote learning will stack up well against being in school with an undertrained substitute, especially on days when classes are combined because enough teachers aren’t available. Such crowding also can increase the possibility of spreading COVID-19, especially considering how infectious the omicron variant is. It might be necessary, for the time being, to run hybrid models so there is a remote option to protect kids and staff.

Like so much during this pandemic, few good choices are available for parents, administrators, teachers and school board members.

Santa Fe is more fortunate than many places in the United States. The district has spent money improving air circulation and offers a robust testing regimen to catch cases of COVID-19. A dashboard on the district website, www.sfps.info, contains current information about cases, both numbers and locations.

Our teachers and district staff are going above and beyond the call of duty in trying to educate children in the middle of a pandemic.

To Chavez, we say this: There is no shame in taking the district to remote learning because of too many cases or a lack of teaching staff. Omicron spreads quickly, and it is entirely possible the district won’t have enough teachers at specific schools for them to stay open.

Be ready to go remote, do so quickly and don’t apologize for safeguarding the health and safety of teachers, staff and students. Board members should be ready to support remote learning if conditions on the ground make it necessary.

Meanwhile, schools should continue to stress vaccinations for staff and students. These shots, after all, limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect against the worst cases.

It has become popular in the United States for pundits and politicians to demonize teachers and their unions, claiming these caring adults are not putting children first. That’s bunk.

Teachers want to teach. Most would rather do so in person than remotely. But teachers also want to safeguard their health and the well-being of loved ones. They want children to feel safe at school. None of that is unreasonable.

What is unreasonable is expecting schools to function normally while a pandemic rages. These are not normal times. Chavez, his staff and district employees are to be commended for focusing first on children. The time is coming, though, when putting kids first could mean keeping children out of harm’s way, learning at home until the danger is past.

(12) comments

Marci Mel

Well, at least everyone who was desperate to navigate overcrowded airports to jump on a plane for a big Christmas dinner got what they needed, even if it involved catching and spreading Covid. I'm sure the ham dinner and fruit cake were very much worth it .

Matthias Sayer

Uhh, who eats fruit cake?

Robert Nowak

Thanks for this good editorial statement.

Chris Mechels

The New Mexican should stop giving us free advice, and try actually reporting the news for a change. Like reporting on the illegal implementation of the Cannabis Act. Perhaps we need to bulldoze their building, and invite a "real" newspaper to Santa Fe?

Michael Kiley

I agree with the editorial, save for this: no child too young to vaccinate should be in any interior space, even with mask. No child old enough to vaccinate should be in any interior space without vaccination. Children

are clearly most at risk for infection and serious disease. And get ready is a stage with no limits, tomorrow is a good day to send the children and teachers home for remote learning. I have called for vax certificate checks at all indoor facilities including restaurants in urban New Mexico areas, and I do again now. Viruses have cunning, and Omicron could be a trojan horse to spread infection, after which mutation could create a more deadly successor. Just because we are tired of it does not make it OK to coast.

Andy Blanco

Please cite some evidence to support your claim that “Children are clearly most at risk.”

Saying that omicron “could” turn into something else is a fear-based and irrational argument. Again, do you have some evidence? Otherwise, it’s extremely irresponsible to publicly voice your uninformed anxieties as if they were fact.

While you’re at it, please find some actual evidence that school closures even have any impact on Covid death rates.

Richard Reinders

I agree if teachers don’t want to teach, then you must give the tax money to the parents to seek their own education options for their children. Billions have been given to the schools to comply to the teachers union demand to make schools safe but they are backing out of their end of the deal. Easy give the parents vouchers for 12k which is what we spend currently for NM students.

Andy Blanco

Wow, this editorial makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the negative effects on children going to school during a pandemic. We have two years of data now that show that remote learning is devastating to children academically and emotionally. In fact it’s so overwhelming that this is one issue both political parties have come to agree on.

The paper should base its editorials on science not on conjecture.

Samantha Chenier

Ok, so we close the schools and then what? Some parents in this town actually have to work and all kids are already behind academically. There are is zero societal help for parents and students in this situation. No child care, no tutoring, no mental health resources for students. Students and kids have sacrificed their education, mental health, social lives for adults for nearly 2 years now. Enough. We have vaccines and boosters for kids of school age and adults to prevent severe illness, HAVC systems have been upgraded, masking and distancing is in place. As others in this thread have posted, there is no science that links schools to an increase in severe illness. If that changes, let's have a conversation. Until then, stop resting public health on the shoulders of kids.

MICHAEL DEUTSCH

Shocking that we are still talking about even partial school closures after the damage that was done to our kids over the last 2 years of remote "learning". For the vast majority of children there was no learning, just stress, isolation, abuse, and and mental illness. The data is clear, the science is clear - keeping schools open is critical to the healthy growth of our children and the future stability of our society. Covid will pass but the set backs our kids have suffered will persist for a generation. Open schools are an essential public service and should be the absolute last thing to close. Superintendent Chavez, please, for the good of all New Mexicans, put our kids future first and keep our schools open.

Matthias Sayer

Unbelievable…this opinion…just unbelievable. Equally unbelievable, that SFNM would publish this anonymously. Someone should own this fear-laden, anti-student / child opinion. Anyone contemplating remote-learning as an acceptable approach ignores the peril such an approach places our children in. The data is everywhere. See here from the NYTimes:

“For the past two years, however, many communities in the U.S. have not really grappled with the trade-off. They have tried to minimize the spread of Covid — a worthy goal absent other factors — rather than minimizing the damage that Covid does to society. They have accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults, often without acknowledging the dilemma or assessing which decisions lead to less overall harm.

Given the choices that the country has made, it should not be surprising that children are suffering so much.”

https://messaging-custom-newsletters.nytimes.com/template/oakv2?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20220104&instance_id=49344&nl=the-morning&productCode=NN&regi_id=100329784&segment_id=78602&te=1&uri=nyt%3A%2F%2Fnewsletter%2F512006c5-3c0c-5738-938b-c7325601342a&user_id=6bafc560fb277e25ed6ba96d1d4c7e3f

Now, considering this and a presumed collective interest in our children and their well-being and development, add to the calculus this, also from the NYT:

Before Omicron, a typical vaccinated 75-year-old who contracted Covid had a roughly similar risk of death — around 1 in 200 — as a typical 75-year-old who contracted the flu.

Omicron has changed the calculation. Because it is milder than earlier versions of the virus, Covid now appears to present less threat to most vaccinated elderly people than the annual flu does.

The flu, of course, does present risk for the elderly. And the sheer size of the Omicron surge may argue for caution over the next few weeks. But the combination of vaccines and Omicron’s apparent mildness means that, for an individual, Covid increasingly resembles the kind of health risk that people accept every day.

Consider that again “Covid increasingly resembles the kind of health risk that people accept every day.”

I am not sure how any policy/decision maker, who’s mandate includes developing students/children could consider subjecting them to the perils of remote learning when the threat at hand resembles the kind of health risk that people accept every day.

To do so would be an incredible capitulation to politics, to fear, to pressure from one interest group that wields too much power, and ultimately an abandonment of our children…again.

Please do not go there Superintendent Chavez 🙏

TJ Welch

Yes. Keep the schools open. Increase testing and teacher pay. (More than the 7% which has been proposed). Remote learning for younger students doesn’t work. As a parent we’ve seen firsthand not only the mental fatigue and constant challenge it becomes when learning remotely for children, but also the effects it has on working parents. Trying to juggle work and keeping young energetic kids focused on zoom calls and then engaged in Independant work time is not possible. It simply doesn’t work. Imagine kindergarten and 2nd grade children at home, trying to self manage their time and have the discipline their distractions. It’s not possible.

It seems like this anonymous author is fearful for little reason and not considering the reality of remote learning and how it effects working families. The workforce is already diminished in this city. Children need in person supervision and positive, in person peer pressure to learn. They also need time with classmates to learn how to be together and work together as young members of our society. They have fallen very far behind since this has begun work in both academic learning and social learning. They need to stay in in-person school.

We all commend the smart, fresh superintendent as well as the teachers and staff for their hard work. Thank you for keeping our kids in school. You are making a major difference and your work is bettering our community and nation. Thank you.

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