Opinion: Mandate frustration understandable
July 29, 2020
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham made it official: New Mexico’s public schools will not physically open until after Labor Day.
That’s in line with what a lot of school districts, faced with COVID-19 outbreaks in the communities they serve, were already moving toward; the governor just made it an across-the-board directive.
It’s easy to understand the school closures in communities where the virus is spreading; reopening schools in Bernalillo, Doña Ana, McKinney and Lea counties would only make matters worse for those “hotspots” in our state right now. But it’s also easy to understand the frustration in places like De Baca County, the only county in the state without a single confirmed case of the coronavirus, or Harding County, the least populated county in the state, with only one confirmed case so far.
In a small town just a few confirmed cases can set off alarms. Where I live in Santa Rosa, the school board decided to open with a hybrid approach — in-person classroom instruction mixed with online distance learning — until five local people were found to be infected and a larger community spread looked imminent. Just two days after the school board’s decision, the superintendent posted that, because of the developing circumstances, they’d have to put the plan on hold.
Then came the governor’s announcement and the plan became, at least for now, a moot point.
In a small community, people know those who have been infected, and they have a pretty good idea who has been exposed, and all that overlaps easily into the schools. That’s why, here in Santa Rosa, most people appear to agree with most Americans who, according to polls, are reluctant to send their kids back into the classroom just yet.
In the more conservative areas of New Mexico, however, that’s not the case. Places like Roswell are refusing to even enforce the mask-wearing mandate, so I doubt they’re thrilled to have another state order keeping the schools closed. Both are health-based directives, but for some, they’re bigger than that. In their minds, the masks violate their personal freedom while the school order usurps local control.
Fortunately for our state’s health, however, more people are wearing masks and accepting the closures. I traveled into Albuquerque to do some shopping the other day and, everywhere I went, people were wearing masks and socially distancing as best they could.
I did see one woman in a grocery store, in obvious rebellion. She looked angry in her camouflaged pants and maskless face, and in a hurry, as if she needed to grab a few items before being thrown out. I almost felt sorry for her, she seemed so out of place.
I wondered as I watched her tromp around defiantly in the dairy section, does she have any school-age kids? If so, I imagine her anger against the government telling her what to do has just grown stronger.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: