School districts’ menstrual products part of state’s budget cuts

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.

Judge denies PED motion to dismiss Yazzie/Martinez suit

The plaintiffs in a long-running court case on New Mexico’ education funding and policies were dealt two wins on Monday. State district judge Matthew Wilson denied a motion by the state to dismiss a pending years-old lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department that said the state did not do enough to provide an adequate education to students. 

Wilson’s ruling means the court will continue to monitor the case until a complete overhaul of the state’s education system is complete. Wilson also approved a motion from the plaintiffs to allow further discovery in the case to gauge how much improvement the state has made since a court order in 2018. “There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students,” Wilson said. “The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement and that these students are actually college or career ready.”

Monday’s hearing was the latest in the ongoing case that involves two different lawsuits filed against PED in 2014.

‘Zoom bombs’ create a concern for distance learning in NM

For the past several weeks, people all over the country have flocked to online meeting platforms in an attempt to stay connected with both friends and coworkers amid the global COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in a number of mandatory shelter in place orders. 

But as more people use virtual meeting platforms like Google or Zoom, there are reports of increased malicious activity, which is now known to some as “Zoom-bombing.” Meetings around the country have reportedly been interrupted with unknown users who use racist language or share pornographic material. 

The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission experienced its first “Zoom bomb” on Wednesday when, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, an unknown individual used offensive language before a loud mix of talking and noises led to an abrupt end to the meeting. 

NM school districts prepare for new plans for the last weeks of school

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.

State to announce extension of public school closure on Friday

The state will announce an extension of the closure of public schools on Friday, according to the state Public Education Department. The department made the announcement on social media. The initial closure would have ended on April 6. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and PED Secretary Ryan Stewart will make the announcement alongside the New Mexico Department of Health on Friday morning, with answers to questions online. “The final determination of the scope of the closure period will be done this afternoon, after examining extensive plans among different state agencies,” the PED statement said.

Guv announces four new positive COVID-19 cases, plus updates on school closures

During a press conference Friday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced four additional confirmed positive tests for COVID-19 in New Mexico, bringing the state’s total to 10. According to the Department of Health three of the new cases were a household contact with one of the initial six cases. Two of the 10 infected people have been hospitalized, said a DOH official. 

All positive tests are sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for confirmation. The four new cases were announced the morning after the state’s Public Education Department announced that all public schools in the state would close for three weeks starting March 16. 

Related: Here’s where APS students can get a meal while schools are closed

Lujan Grisham assured the public that imperative services like meals and child care will not be interrupted, although she said specifics have not been locked down yet and the whole process will be dynamic. 

“Yesterday school was open. Monday they’re closed,” Lujan Grisham said.

Lujan Grisham ouster of Trujillo raises questions

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided. 

It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now. 

The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico. 

A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature. 

And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor. 

“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”

 “This was not infrequent communication. These concerns were not new. Interventions failed, a change had to be made,” Stelnicki said.

Change in grading schools dies in Legislature

Two bills that would have created new guidelines for grading New Mexico’s teachers stalled during the just-completed legislative session, but the state Public Education Department will continue to transition away from the evaluation system implemented by the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez. Troubled by a teacher shortage, department officials say they are aiming to finalize a new rule outlining teacher evaluation standards that could become law in the 2020 session of the state Legislature. “We are trying to rebuild some trust between the department and educators. Across the board we are looking to change how we give schools or teachers feedback,” PED Deputy Secretary for Teaching and Learning Gwen Warniment said. “The old system did not offer teachers any type of mechanism through which you were able to become a reflective practitioner.

Senate confirms governor’s pick for public education secretary

The state Senate’s confirmation process for New Mexico’s new public education secretary, Karen Trujillo, was short and painless. It lacked the drama, conflict and fire that marked hearings involving the controversial Hanna Skandera, who toiled through four years of political battles, committee hearings and public testimony over her confirmation, which Skandera at one point called “a circus.” In the end, the Senate voted 22-19 to confirm Skandera in 2015 — four years after she was appointed to the job by then-Gov. Susana Martinez. The Senate never confirmed Skandera’s successor, Christopher Ruszkowski, who took the job in the spring of 2017 on an interim basis after Skandera’s resignation and was named secretary-designate by Martinez later that year. For Trujillo, the entire process took little more than two hours and ended with a Senate vote of 38-0.

Education department plans overhaul of school rating system

The New Mexico Public Education Department aims to scrap the state’s A-F grading system for public schools, which critics have said puts too much emphasis on student test scores. Under proposed changes to the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the agency says it will replace an accountability system that identifies schools as failing with one that classifies them by the amount of state and federal support they require. “This is a shift in philosophy from seeing schools as failing to seeing a call to action,” said Tim Hand, deputy secretary of the education department. “This underscores how we see that our role at the Public Education Department is to lead with support.” The effort comes as Democratic state lawmakers have introduced two measures — Senate Bill 229 by Sen. Mimi Stewart and House Bill 639 by Rep. G. Andrés Romero — that would repeal a law creating the A-F grading system.