BY CHRISTINE BERNSTEIN
The mask mandate has lifted in New Mexico, and everyone has thoughts, opinions, demands, desires, needs, and wants. People feel excited, relieved, fearful, frustrated, angry, hopeful, and more.
As a Los Alamos Public Schools Board member I have received numerous emails, messages, and calls from people in the community. I love that I live in a place where people can communicate and use their voice. I am always grateful when my community tells me what they want. But it is not always easy. Because not everyone wants the same thing. So, democracy steps in.
Before I go much further with democracy, I want to say a few words about intent. I have been listening to a book on leadership. The author talks about many aspects of leadership, but one item that is resonating with me right now is the idea of assuming best intent.
People are either angry or relieved with the governor’s decision to lift the mask mandate. I have been mulling this over. The governor’s actions seemed out of character- there was no preparation, no timeline, just an announcement to end mask-wearing effective immediately. People then speculate as to why. And honestly, unless we get an answer from the governor directly, we do not know the intention behind the decision. But my guess is it was done with good intention and not to cause harm.
As a school board member, I am receiving a variety of emails from constituents. Some are angry and scathing that we did not act quickly, others are kind and mindful. I am reading commentary on Facebook and getting texts from disappointed constituents. I have received more input than I can answer, so I am here, putting out this statement. And my statement is this:
There are so many factors involved and the intention of the board is to do the right thing. I can speak for myself and say I do not want to hurt kids, hide information, deny the governors’ mandates. There is no devious plot to deny people their rights. And I get it…if I am asking you to assume best intentions, I must assume the same of my community.
And this is what I have heard: Many people in the community want the board to lift the mandate immediately as per governor’s orders. Some of my community wants us to hold mask-wearing in place. And as I sit and read these emails and public comment, I am thinking about what is driving the fear, the anger, the frustration, and the desire and hope that is coming across to me. And I realize…we are all tired. We want life to go back the way it was. I also want it to go back to the way it was. And I am currently in a position where I must make decisions on behalf of and for others.
Here’s the truth:
We must abide by laws. We have been advised by our lawyer to hold a special meeting and make a vote in public. Recently, we failed to do this when we chose the new superintendent. It wasn’t intentional, it was a mistake we all made then acknowledged and corrected. Now we once again find ourselves needing to act according to law and with mindfulness. We are not dragging our feet, holding back, or making decisions behind the community’s back. For myself, I am reading every single message and public comment that comes into my inbox, phone, messenger.
The board can be sued, and has been sued, and not just the district, but individual board members as well. We need to adhere to Open Meetings Act. The governor’s mandate states, ” The decision on masking in schools will be left up to governing school bodies, which may elect to keep or suspend masking requirements.”
In order for governing school bodies to meet and make decisions, boards need to notice and have a meeting in public.
In case you are not aware, the OMA (Open Meetings Act) states that we must give 72 hours notice of meetings. We must post the agenda with the notice. We are allowed to call a special meeting with 72 hours notice. We can call emergency meetings, but there must be a clear and present danger and the attorney general is contacted to determine that the need for an emergency meeting was present.
The special meeting will be held Monday February 21 at 5:30 pm. I encourage you to publish your comments to public comment on the school website before the meeting.
I am asking for everyone to pause and remember; we all have different levels of comfort and tolerance. We are all here together and we want what is best for our kids. And although not everyone agrees with what that may be, everyone is doing the best they can and acting on the best intentions of all. Before you criticize and judge or assume, please, just ask questions.
Lastly, I am exercising democracy by asking for you to exercise your rights- use your voice to express what you want. I am using my voice to express what I want- I want my community to speak up and communicate, but I ask that you do so mindfully and respectfully. Remember, we are also part of this community. I have children in school. I have been a teacher. I am a person and although you may not like all decisions made or all things said, I ask that we treat each other with respect and consideration. Again, just ask me. I will do my best to provide honest clear answers.