Bill to provide ombud for parents of special education students passes committee

State Rep. Liz Thomson spoke from experience Monday as she discussed House Bill 222. Thomson, a Democratic state representative from Albuquerque, talked about the struggles her family faced in advocating for the special education plans and services her son needed as he attended public school in Albuquerque. Those travails, she told the House Education Committee, led her to craft the bill, which would create an Office of the State Special Education Ombud. The ombud would serve as an independent advocate for public school students seeking special education services and provide comprehensive support for families navigating that system, according to the bill. Thomson said it was the kind of assistance she and many other parents of special education students needed.

Yazzie-Martinez plaintiffs want court to order state to address remote learning issues

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over educational resources in New Mexico filed a request with the First Judicial District Court on Wednesday to order the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to thousands of at risk students who lack tools for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP). The nonprofit, which is providing legal counsel to the plaintiffs of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, estimated that 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands do not have internet services at all. Florena Valencia, of the San Felipe Pueblo, and her three daughters are one Native American family who lack internet at home. Valencia sat with her three daughters in her hot car in the warmer months while her children tried to learn remotely, she said.

Focus on education as state continues to see COVID-19 improvement

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and state health officials had a largely positive press conference related to COVID-19 on Thursday. While the governor addressed further discussions of further easing restrictions, she said the focus is currently on in-person education and childcare. 

“Focus is on education. Number one priority,” Lujan Grisham said. “Because we know if we can do that successfully, we know we can do more business openings.”

But it was because of the continued improvement in numbers that officials can even consider starting a conversation. “All of our success is really behavior by New Mexico residents,” Lujan Grisham said.

Tough on moms: Stories of struggle and juggling demands during the pandemic

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.

PED gives update on opening some elementary schools to in-person instruction

The state is getting ready to allow some elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction next week, as part of a hybrid model with remote learning, the state Public Education Department Secretary said in an online press conference on Thursday. “We’ve been anxiously awaiting the point where we can get back into schools, with the public health conditions and the systems that we’ve put in place to support those conditions are in place,” PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “We’ve taken a very deliberate approach to this because we know we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re seeing big outbreaks or we’re seeing some of the issues that have happened elsewhere.”

The state will allow districts and charter schools in counties with under 5 percent positivity rate and under eight daily cases per 100,000 residents, both on 14-day rolling averages, to reopen if they wish. Additionally, districts and charter schools in those counties that qualify must have PED-approved plans for reopening, including strict COVID-safe protocols, to get the go-ahead to reopen. Seven counties did not meet either goal, as of the data from Aug.

State outlines further reopening, begins plans for some in-person learning

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham further outlined the changes to the state’s public health order, which will go into effect on Saturday and last through at least September 18, and officials provided updates on preparations for a return to in-person learning for some elementary school students in September. But the state Human Services Department Secretary, Dr. David Scrase, warned against complacency. “As we begin reopening, this is not an invitation to go back to everything we’ve always done,” he said. He said it was part of a small, gradual reopening. The easing of restrictions includes allowing indoor dining for the first time in over six weeks.

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.

State closes public schools for three weeks beginning Monday amid coronavirus spread

All New Mexico public schools will close for three weeks, effective Monday, March 16. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the New Mexico Public Education Department and the New Mexico Department of Health made the announcement Thursday evening. The governor said the state made the announcement Thursday to give parents and students time to prepare for the change. The governor will hold a press conference on Friday morning with more information. “We will be informing the public of additional measures that the state will be taking to ease the burden on families and educators and ensure that children continue to be fed and cared for,” Lujan Grisham said.