We’re at an important juncture regarding the education of the New Mexico's children. It’s early in the semester, we’re administering vaccines at a great pace and the infection rate is dropping at a nice pace.
This has prompted Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to give the go ahead for in-person learning. The reaction to the announcement has been tepid at best. The Pojoaque Valley School Board voted at its January meeting to remain in remote learning for the rest of the school year. Española School Board Feb. 3 did a lot of talking but took no action to get students back into the classroom. McCurdy Charter School leaders are leaning toward a March 1 hybrid start. They’re set to discuss it at tonight’s (2/11) Board meeting.
The push-back is coming from teachers, some older, some with underlying health conditions and some just don’t feel safe. Take that negativity and feed it to a union representative and you get a hard no.
It’s difficult and perhaps wrong for those not going into the classroom to say that teachers need to get back in the classroom. Everyone during the pandemic has made their own personal choice on how to react to it, protect one’s self and interact (or not) with other people. Teachers are no different in that regard.
However, look at those of us who kept doing our job with minimal alteration in work flow. There are Walmart cashiers, Burger King clerks, cops, firefighters, hardware store employees and we won’t even get into health care workers, who are going to work everyday, doing their job in the thick of the virus, while remaining safe. It can be done.
The two big factors in closing schools were the congregation of people and the lack of hygiene discipline in younger students. Most teens aren’t known for their fastidiousness either. These concerns have been addressed and taken so seriously, reopening a school requires an inspection and OK by medical services.
However, there are several Centers for Disease Control studies that show children can return to class and it can be done safely.
Learning has not taken place on a respectable level since early March 2020. We’ve said several times that this year of “distance-learning” will come back and bite us in four, five and six years when the current second, third and fourth-graders roll through eighth grade and start taking competency exams.
This could be curtailed with a return to the classroom. It may be possible to salvage some of this lost school year.
Another possibly more serious problem with distance-learning is the social, mental and emotional issues that are roaring in the background. Most of these issues are going unchecked and for the most part undetected.
The adult introverts among us are wearing well with minimal interaction with others and running a regular routine of home to work, work to home, rinse and repeat. Extroverts not so much. Part of their psychology is missing—and these are the adults.
Children need social interaction. It’s part of the learning process. A year without it is showing up in emergency rooms and police stations. Children are harming themselves and threatening to harm themselves in much greater numbers than 2019. We’re going to see a huge rise in overdose death numbers for 2020, overdoses where the drug user survives, suicides and family dynamics permanently broken.
Then there are the sports fans. While we maintain school is for education, there are those who almost literally live for the next basketball game, volleyball match, take your pick.
High school is also a time where often lifelong friendships are established, choices are made which chart young people’s lives. Hopefully many are preparing for college. That’s tough to do without those sounding boards and shared experiences.
Re-opening the High School on a limited basis is a good start. We hope it demonstrates to non-believers it's safe to return to COVID-safe in person learning.
The classroom setups now in place have repeatedly been proven to keep children and teachers safe. About one-third of the schools throughout the country never stopped in-person school. Others stopped in March 2020 and returned in the fall. These are the models that prove in-school education can be accomplished safely.
The 76 percent of teachers in the Española School District who don’t want to return have not countered with what would make them feel safe. There is no negotiation.
If this were any other profession, if an employee refused to return to work, they’d be replaced. We don’t have that luxury. We don’t have enough teachers now.
This is a good time for the school board to have a discussion with teachers and try to reach some middle ground. Perhaps bring in a McDonald’s worker and a cashier from Center Market and have them discus how they’ve been doing their part since last March and teachers can too.