Parents lobby for local school control
Last updated 8/2/2021 at 9:27pm
CLOVIS - Parents opposed to state mask mandates packed a Clovis Municipal Schools school board meeting Tuesday to protest.
New Mexico's Public Education Department on Monday issued guidelines stating elementary school students, teachers, staff, volunteers and visitors be required to wear face-coverings at school. PED also stated the unvaccinated - and those not providing proof of vaccination - must wear masks in all public schools.
The PED stated it based its new masking and distancing guidelines on advice from the New Mexico Department of Health and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control. Federal health officials have recommended stricter mask wearing in the face of increasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among mostly unvaccinated victims. Officials cite the Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 for the increased precautions. The Delta variant is believed to be more contagious than previous varieties.
Parents in Clovis on Tuesday urged the board to break away from the PED's authority and asserted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control should not be considered an authority on the science involved with the COVID-19 epidemic.
"We have to stand up for the children" in the Clovis district, former state lawmaker Brett Johnson told the board at the podium. "You should become the Clovis independent school district."
Clovis schools, he said, should not require elementary children to wear masks, "just because someone in Santa Fe said so."
New Mexico, he noted, has been ranked at the bottom of U.S. states for education, and that's why the district should not listen to Santa Fe.
Sid Strebek, a grandfather to Clovis school students, followed that same line.
"We're different from Santa Fe," he said. "We want local control."
Further, he said, if the Clovis district opposed the state on the mask mandate, "there would be no consequences."
"They're not going to take your insurance" or other benefits away, he said.
Voters, he told the board, "will hold you accountable."
Jackie Valentine, a parent, asserted that "the virus doesn't affect children" and that masks are harmful.
Further, she said, "we've had 17 months of flattening the curve, and that is enough time."
Adam Warren, another parent, said the science behind mask requirement is not sound.
"I'm 44 and I've never worn a mask," he said, and he has not gotten COVID-19.
Another parent, Josh Parkin, said, "I'd rather pull my kids out of school than make them wear masks."
"They don't work," he said. "They don't stop anything. They're just a piece of cloth."
He added, "We are not free if we are forced to put things on our face."
The school board took no action related to mask or distancing policies after the parents spoke, but in her superintendent's report shortly after the parents spoke, Superintendent Renee Russ clarified some of the new state policies regarding masks and distancing.
The mandate does not require masks for outdoor activities, but makes them mandatory for all unvaccinated students and staff in indoor settings. All are required to show proof of vaccination to be allowed to be mask-free indoors.
In elementary school, children are too young for the vaccine, so the mask mandate is applied, she said, and for older students, only the unvaccinated must wear masks indoors.
Napping kindergartners and pre-schoolers, she said, do not need to wear masks.
She said new masks are available that allow faces to be seen beneath, which will be useful in teaching younger children in reading and speaking skills.
In addition, she said, the school is maintaining requirements that 25% of volunteer students and staff will be tested for COVID-19 each week.
The district will also apply COVID-19-safe travel policies, including isolated lodging for unvaccinated students and staff.
In other matters:
• The board learned of fund balances for fiscal year 2021, which ended June 30. The largest fund, the operational fund, ended the year with a $15 million cash balance, documents attached to the agenda show. The fund had a budget of $78.4 million and spent $63.5 million, records show.
• The board heard from Paula Adkins, executive director of language, culture and at-risk services, that Launch Pad Summer Academy classes from June 7 to June 24 attracted 567 kindergarten through fifth grade students, who gained skills in reading, language and math in morning classes.
Cost of the program was about $705 per child, covered by federal and state funds.'
• Adkins updated findings from her continuing effort to find out where parents would like the district to spend $16.4 million in American Recovery Act funding for schools. So far, she said, 100 parents have responded in person and by survey. So far, she said, 72% would like tutoring for students who are advanced as well as those who are behind, 75% would like to see more enrichment activities, such as music and extracurricular activities, but only 10% would favor longer school days, Saturday or evening classes.
• The board approved curriculum changes for Advanced Placement (AP) English and Spanish Language Arts.
• The board approved board policies on sending out requests for proposals or bids on Non-Discrimination/Equal Opportunity, Special Instructional Programs, open enrollment, student dress, exracurricular activity eligibility, Student Discipline and physical examination of students.