Cabinet secretaries, clockwise from top left, Ryan Stewart, Lynn Trujillo, Brian Blalock and Elizabth Groginsky during Friday morning’s teleconference. Los Alamos Reporter Screen Shot
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Public Education Department Sec. Ryan Stewart, Indian Affairs Department Sec. Lynn Trujillo, Child Youth & Families Sec. Brian Blalock, and Early Childhood Education & Care Sec. Elizabeth Groginsky held a joint teleconference Friday morning to announce that K-12 schools in New Mexico will remain closed through the end of the current academic year..
Stewart said the department have been collaborating with the governor’s office and health officials monitoring the COVID-19 virus spread and ever since PED had to announce the temporary closure a few weeks ago. He said they were hoping they would see clear signs that it would be safe to return to normal operations on April 6.
“As we continue to watch, we know that we still have many cases going across New Mexico including some evidence of community spread. We know that we still haven’t reached the peak of this and we’re still a ways away from the peak. It’s quite clear that it’s not yet safe to be able to bring our students back into school and that we still have more to do to make sure we do everything we can to combat the spread of this virus for the foreseeable future,” Stewart said. “For these reasons, the PED in collaboration with the governor’s office and health officials, is making the difficult decision to extend the closure of schools through the rest of the academic year.”
He said the decision is in line with CDC guidance which suggests that longer closures are needed to stop the spread.
“It’s also in line with New Mexico strategy to make sure that we’re taking very aggressive and proactive measures at every turn to combat the spread of this virus in New Mexico, save the lives of New Mexicans and keep our students, our families and our communities safe,” Stewart said.
He said the announcement is not being taken lightly and has a tremendous impact on families and communities.
“We recognize that and we know that at this moment making sure that we are doing everything in our power to keep social distance and stop the spread of this virus makes this very difficult call absolutely necessary,” Stewart said.
He said there are extraordinary educators all over the state who right now are making heroic actions to make sure that they can continue to stay engaged with their students continue to provide services for them.
“I’ve been inspired as I look around the state and see how many of our educators and staff members, food service workers, custodians, bus drivers and maintenance workers are out there every day feeding kids,” Stewart said. “We’ve had educators who’ve been creative in every possible way to connect with our students both online and by providing work that has been distributed through our grab and go programs, through our meal service programs and also through bus delivery service at bus stops. And we’ve had no shortage of community members and partners step up to make sure that we’re taking care of everybody – our students who are home, our students who are experiencing homelessness and our students who have behavioral health needs. We have seen a tremendous outpouring and incredible creativity in innovation in how we are reaching these students and we will continue to do that even during this extraordinary time.”
He said making sure the academic, the social and emotional needs of all New Mexico kids are met is the number one job at the moment while we keeping kids safe and distant during the current crisis.
“At the Public Education Department we’ve been planning for this eventuality ever since we saw the spread of this virus and what it might do. We were very hopeful that we would be able to come back on April 6 but we knew that we needed a backup plan in case that wasn’t a possibility so we have been looking into this for weeks now collaborating with many other agencies,” Stewart said.
Stewart went on to describe provisions being put in place for various scenarios within the education system. (See https://losalamosreporter.com/2020/03/27/governor-k-12-school-closings-must-continue-to-prevent-spread-of-covid-19/
Some 55 members of the press attended the hour-long Zoom meeting. The four secretaries fielded questions. See separate story for FAQs