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Floyd school board defies governor's mask mandate

FLOYD — The Floyd Municipal School District has called a special board meeting for Monday night. The purpose: to review a memo from the state's Education Department that threatens to suspend board members' governance for facemask policies that are “inconsistent” with state mandates.

The district announced on its website that the special board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. Monday in the high school computer lab to hear public comments and review the memo from NMPED Secretary Ryan Stewart that states the board must rescind its actions of July 26.

That Monday was when Floyd school board members approved actions declaring masks and social distancing are optional. The actions were taken hours after the state issued mandates requiring masks for elementary students and teachers and many others in the public schools.

The governor's office on Thursday announced Stewart is leaving his post “to address family health issues,” but said his successor — former Los Alamos Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus — will follow through on enforcement plans.

The letter from Stewart, as first reported by the online news site and confirmed by PED on Friday morning, stated in part:

“The Public Education Department takes adherence to the COVID-Safe Practices during the pandemic very seriously. It is extremely troubling that this board has taken official action in direct violation of the requirements to maintain the health and safety of the community.

“By noon on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the board must take official action at a public meeting to rescind the actions (of July 26) and/or to adopt a course of action that conforms to the published health and safety requirements.”

If the board fails to rescind the earlier action, it could “result in adverse licensure actions against licensed individuals, suspension of school board governance, and other applicable enforcement actions,” Stewart's letter continued.

“Furthermore, the District will be subject to ongoing monitoring and site visits to ensure compliance with health protocols.”

Floyd school officials could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Two state lawmakers — Jack Chatfield, R-Mosquero, and James Townsend, R-Artesia — expressed concerns about the state's response to the Floyd board's actions in a letter to Stewart.

Their letter stated “our strong objection to the way (PED) is threatening and harassing local school boards and superintendents in regard to decisions they may be making … We find such a letter an unnecessary overreach by PED and another outrageous example of where PED is striving to reduce or eliminate local control of our state's educational system.”

Townsend and Chatfield asked instead that the PED “engage in an effort to provide reasonable flexibility to local school districts …”

Stewart responded in a letter to the lawmakers that he attempted to schedule a meeting with Floyd school officials to discuss their concerns but that they chose to adopt the policies without “engaging in dialogue.”

“It is not my wish to be combative or punitive in this process,” Stewart wrote. “We must take all actions necessary to ensure that the proper safety measures are in place to stop school-based spread of the virus.”

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