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New Mexico National Guard members teach in COVID-hit schools

WorldJan 25, 2022 05:31PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Democratic candidate for governor Michelle Lujan Grisham greets diners at Cocina Azul on midterm elections day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S., November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) -National Guard members in New Mexico have begun substitute teaching and the governor said she would do the same in a bid to keep students in classrooms during a COVID-19 surge.

Parents and public workers are volunteering in schools across the country to address teacher shortages. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico's Democratic governor, went further in asking National Guard members to volunteer as substitutes.

Over 60 New Mexico schools have switched to remote learning since winter break. But, according to a legislative report, online learning has proved disastrous for students in a state already ranked among the lowest for education.

Since Lujan Grisham put out the call for Guard and state employee volunteers last week, 59 people have been cleared to teach following background checks and online training, the state education department said.

Lujan Grisham has also completed the process and will announce her plans this week, spokeswoman Nora Sackett said in an email.

New Mexico Republicans called her move to teach a "publicity stunt" and said she allowed the teacher shortage to happen.

"This is an act of desperation," state Republican party Executive Director Kim Skaggs said in a statement.

Schools across New Mexico had more than 1,000 unfilled teaching positions in October 2021, nearly double a year earlier, according to a New Mexico State University study.

The pandemic exacerbated teacher resignations as socioeconomic conditions worsened for students in one of the poorest U.S. states, researchers found.

To stem the teacher exodus, the governor has requested funds for an up to 7% increase in wages.

Education unions have supported the governor's substitute teacher plan, with the proviso it is an emergency measure and not a long-term fix.

"It's a big idea to try to address a crisis," National Education Association New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez said.

In neighboring Texas parents stepped in to keep in-person classes going as teachers stayed home with COVID-19.

"It's unpredictable, we don't know what day is going to have however many people out," said Marisela Maddox, one of about half a dozen parent volunteers at Austin Jewish Academy.

New Mexico National Guard members teach in COVID-hit schools

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