On the hottest two days in July in Las Cruces, when temperatures soared to 109 and 108 on July 19 and 20 respectively, some students in the district rode home in the middle of the afternoon on buses that lacked air conditioning. Parents complained and the Las Cruces School Board of Education President Teresa Tenorio rode a few school buses herself to experience what the children were going through. The children who suffered were not only on buses that lacked air conditioning in the excessive heat. Parents also complained of buses that have air conditioning but said the circulation is not strong enough to keep all the children on the bus cool in the record high heat. “Buses that do have air conditioning may not function optimally,” Tenorio said during a Las Cruces Public School Board meeting on Tuesday.
A lawsuit against Albuquerque Public Schools for alleged discriminatory remarks against a Native American student can move forward, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled last week. The New Mexico Court of Appeals decided that APS must adhere to state anti-discriminatory laws and the case has been remanded back to district court to be heard on its merits. Monica Armenta, executive director of communications for APS, said the district is reviewing its options and is considering the option of appeal. In 2018, a teacher at an Albuquerque Public Schools cut one Native American student’s hair and called another Native American student a “bloody Indian,” during a game the students were playing in class on Halloween. The plaintiff argued that the teacher created a hostile learning environment and discriminated against Native American students.
The Children, Youth and Family Department Advisory Council met with the public and press on Thursday to highlight how the department and the council intend to meet the mandates of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s executive order intended to improve the department. In her February executive order, Lujan Grisham called CYFD a “system that is fundamentally broken.” After scandals rocked the department in recent years, Lujan Grisham named retired New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil to head the department in 2021. But Vigil stepped down this spring after repeated allegations came to light of significant child abuse under CYFD’s watch. Vigil is now on the advisory council along with a group of five others and CYFD Interim Secretary Teresa Casados, who is Lujan Grisham’s chief operating officer. Casados is filling that role while the department conducts a national search to replace Vigil.
School supply drives are a regular sight in the weeks leading up to school starting every August. It is not just students’ parents who buy pencils, paper and protractors; teachers, many times, spend hundreds of dollars to keep their classrooms stocked for the school year. One proposed bill in this year’s legislative session seeks to help curb that expense. State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, pre-filed a bill that would help offset the expense by allowing teachers who buy school supplies to get a tax deduction of up to $500 for the purchase if the bill is approved during the 2023 legislative session. Marsella Duarte, an Albuquerque kindergarten teacher, supports the bill and said she has spent more than $500 on school supplies for her class.
The Bernalillo County Commission voted to appoint kindergarten teacher Marsella Duarte to fill the vacancy in state House District 16 at a special meeting Wednesday. The appointment lasts until the end of the term, which is Dec. 31 of this year. Duarte was one of seven applicants in attendance at the meeting. Duarte is a lifelong resident of the district, which covers portions of Albuquerque’s Westside along Coors Boulevard from Central Avenue to Montaño Road.
The Albuquerque City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to create the city’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Commission Monday evening. The creation of the commission is the first of 39 recommendations the city’s Domestic Violence Task Force made earlier this fall. Other recommendations include building a clearinghouse website with information, providing training to businesses as well as financial support and structure for domestic violence training in Albuquerque Public Schools and the University of New Mexico. The task force also recommended the city support the Albuquerque Police Department and other agencies in collecting and tracking data and that the city provide financial support and structure within the Community Safety Department to train responders on cultural competence, language access, LGBTQ populations and education on domestic violence, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
Another recommendation is for the city to hire a full-time domestic violence coordinator, a position that is already filled. The task force met for two years and brought together various stakeholders including representatives from community groups who work with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
The New Mexico State Legislature approved $170,000 for menstrual products for some New Mexico public and charter schools for Fiscal Year 2021. But because of the recent state budget crisis, the legislature trimmed the state budget for menstrual products in the schools to $141,190 during the recent special legislative session, said Deborah Martinez, media relations coordinator for New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED). This will affect 57 schools and school districts in the state. The grant awards vary, ranging from $500 allocated to the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy to $26,963 provided to Rio Rancho Public Schools. Martinez said NMPED hasn’t sent out the new award notifications yet to the schools affected.
A domestic worker and mother of four, Olga Santa lost her job because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her daughters, age 7, 11, 13 and 15, are all learning remotely this fall in Albuquerque and will continue to do so for some time; the Albuquerque Public Schools Board voted six to one in August to continue distance learning through the end of the fall semester.
Like other families, Santa is juggling the stress and challenges of her daughters’ remote learning during an unprecedented pandemic. That includes worrying that if her husband, who works in construction, tests positive for COVID-19, they have no backup plan. With Santa out of work, her husband’s paychecks must now stretch to cover all of their expenses. When he was sick this year due to allergies and kidney stones, he still had to appear at the construction site because the family couldn’t afford for him to take a day off.
Many parents across New Mexico will start this week with questions and concerns about their children’s education after the state’s Public Education Department last week announced schools will be closed through May. But to keep students engaged and to justify not making up missed weeks of school, PED has asked all school districts to submit an educational plan. A looming special legislative session to balance the state’s books, a large number of rural school districts in the state and cash-strapped schools adds to the uncertainty of student access and expectations. But the agency said parents should not panic about access to computers or not being able to take on the role of a teacher.
PED spokeswoman Nancy Martira told NM Political Report that the agency is fully aware of the many challenges families are faced with.
“We are asking educators to keep in mind that many families have limited data, minimal access to the Internet, and one device which must be shared between multiple people,” Martira said. She said PED does not expect parents to sit with their children for eight hours a day.
Albuquerque Public Schools announced Friday that, in light of school closures around the state to aid in halting the spread of COVID-19, the district will offer meals to students at 89 schools around the city.
According to APS, meal locations will have a drive-up line to pick up the meals. The district said no one should enter school buildings to pick up food and that students must be present to receive meals. Students can pick up meals at any of the participating schools, with the exception of New Futures, a school for young parents. New Futures students can only get meals at that school.