On Wednesday, the New Mexico state Public Education Department suspended a rural school board of a district with roughly 225 students after it countered Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s mask mandate for requiring children to wear masks in school.
“The five-member Floyd school board voted last week to make masks and social distancing optional and reaffirmed its decision in another vote Monday despite warnings from state officials that they could face suspension or other enforcement actions,” The Albuquerque Journal reported, adding, “The district’s superintendent has been ordered to report directly to outgoing state Education Secretary Ryan Stewart.”
“The Floyd board voted July 26 at a special meeting to make masks and social distancing optional and to disregard state guidelines on indoor air quality, transportation, surveillance testing, and other COVID Safe Practices. Stewart sent board members a memo the next day, advising that their actions were inconsistent with state requirements,” the Los Alamos Daily Post reported.
In late July, the New Mexico Public Education Department released new guidance on masks and protocols for schools. “All individuals in elementary schools regardless of vaccination status are required to wear a mask while: in a school building, on school transportation or at an indoor school-sponsored event,” KOB reported, adding, “Schools must identify the process for ensuring compliance with mask requirements, including posting signage in school facilities, announcing mask requirements at events and other necessary means for enforcement.”
Grisham stated, “In-person learning for New Mexico children is my top priority. And with safety guidelines and unobtrusive health requirements in place, it can happen safely – and for the well-being and growth of our children, it must happen. Until vaccinations are available to children of every age, it will be incumbent on each of us, in school environments, to do everything we can to minimize risk – and that includes face-coverings.”
Stewart sent the memo to the board members in which he threatened, “We cannot put students, staff and their families at unnecessary risk as we continue the fight against the Delta variant. By ignoring these basic safety measures, the board impairs the ability of the district to offer safe and uninterrupted in-person learning opportunities.”
Steve Pearce, the chair of the Republican Party in New Mexico responded to the suspension by defending the school district: “The Republican Party stands shoulder to shoulder with the Floyd School Board and all other boards that refuse to accept these statewide orders from Santa Fe.” House Republican Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia echoed, “Instead of politicizing and headline-grabbing, I sure wish that the governor and PED would have implemented a serious plan to address the learning gap and the myriad of other issues that have been exacerbated during COVID.”
Republican Sen. David Gallegos of Eunice said of the Floyd board, “They represented the best interests of the children in their district. This gross violation of local authority is disrespectful to the students and families of Floyd and may even be a violation of New Mexico law.”