Parents came to the regularly held Hobbs Municipal School Board meeting Tuesday night expressing their concerns about what the state restrictions are doing to students, and to find out if anything can be done to get children back in school.
Currently HMS students are only taking classes remotely with the exception of pre-K through 3rd graders allowed to attend one day a week on student to teacher ration of 5 to 1. The restrictions are set by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the N.M. Department of Education’s calculations of COVID-19 transmissions and new cases by county. All other students are only able to attend distance learning classes via the online instruction program Edgenuity.
In the public comments portion of the meeting, Jeff Arnold, who has a sixth grade student, a ninth grade student, and a junior in high school, spoke at the beginning of the board meeting, thanking the board for their dedication and work during these challenging times, and then read a prepared statement, noting he was speaking just for his family.
In the statement, he addressed the challenges of the likelihood students might not see the inside of a classroom this year.
“They are drowning. They are bewildered. They are heartbroken, and they are growing weary by the day,” Arnold read. “I ask myself how much longer before they say ‘enough’ and they just stop.”
Arnold the said remote learning can be overwhelming, and there is no perceived break between home life and and school.
“They’re barely grasping the understanding to pass these quizzes that they have,” Arnold said about students putting in 35+ hours of school work in a week. “There is no break. They’re home all the time. They don’t go to school. … There is no class transition. No lunch, band, and other things that take up a student’s normal day. … that increases the anxiety for parents at home.”
Arnold noted he and his wife work and are not trained to be professional educators for when they are home. He said this is a common concern among other parents he knows. He said he is concerned of the long-term effect on students because they are only being allowed distance learning.
“I believe we are creating an environment that is being detrimental to the actual education, their personal wellbeing, and the wellbeing of our homes and communities,” Arnold said. “I wish I had some answer today, I really do. … We don’t have the freedom for choosing for ourselves how our children will be educated.
“My children are suffering under this ‘new normal.’ And, the children are moving away from wanting to do anything school related. … I’m concerned.”
The board listened intently to Arnold’s presentation, and board president Gary Eidson addressed the concerns as best he could.
“I hope you know we want kids back in class,” Eidson tried to reassure Arnold and others attending the meeting in person and online.
Board member Terry O’Brain also offered sympathies.
“Tell them to please hang in there,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can, but it’s tough. We do understand.”
Arnold wasn’t the only parent to address the board about the current situation imposed by the governor. Cyril Simon, who is a physician at Nor-Lea, also echoed what Arnold said. He said the state had ample time to prepare, like the hospitals did.
“There’s something wrong with the system,” Simon said. “There’s got to be a better way. … it’s not fair to these kids.”
HMS Superintendent TJ Parks also reassured the parents who had spoken that the district is doing everything they can to get children back in school.
“Surely we should have a better plan because we’ve had plenty of time to prepare,” Parks said in more of a questioning tone so as to address the issue. “The reality is the place where we were at in the spring time is completely different than where we are at today. (Everyone) assumed that when we finished the school year that we would be able to move forward once this year started. Personally I didn’t plan on us having a pandemic that would last a year, or at least shut us down — and I’m going to say shut us down, because if you go three miles that way it’s a whole different world.”
Parks said once teachers’ contracts end at the end of the school year, they are not required to come back for any training until the next school year starts. He stated those issues, combined with changing state requirements has been particularly hard for school district to adapt to.
“Our plan was really for the hybrid model,” Parks said.
The superintendent also addressed knowing the programs used are difficult, but they are the best the district has found so far.
“We did multiple hours, at central office, of researching programs — and I can tell you all of Lea County is using Edgenuity — we were the first to use Pathblazers, and we actually used a different program for our summer school to try it out for our kids. We know it’s a difficult program, and the reality is that Edgenuity is at grade level.”
The program takes a course and divides it out along however many days there are in the school year, Parks said. So, if there are 190 days in the year, and 200 lessons, the program will determine how many lessons will need to be done every day. Each course has a different number of lessons, and that may be one thing parents find frustrating.
“The dilemma with that is kids have multiple classes online,” Parks said. “I do understand there are frustrations. We hear it from staff. We hear it from everyone.”
Parks also noted HMS was one of the first districts to have a plan to reopen classrooms for students.
“We sent it early on so we could say this is how we are going to move forward,” he told those in attendance. “We thought if we were going to start remotely, that it would be for a very short period of time. … Because what we were told early on is the state would not move without everybody moving forward. Now, we’ve been left behind on the east side of the state.”
While Parks thinks it’s important to have kids back in a classroom at least a couple of days a week, he doesn’t believe the governor will allow school districts in the county to have the same educational opportunities as students in other areas of the state when she presents a new map during her weekly press livestream on Thursday.
Parks hopes it will soon be possible to welcome students back.
“Maybe in two more weeks, if the trend in what we’ve had in the last week or two (continues), because it’s a 14-day rolling window,” Parks said. “We hope that by October 12 — that’s keeping the fingers crossed — that we can move and get the notice from the governor on that.”
If that happens, it is still a staggered start, with elementary schools coming back first and secondary school starting after, Parks said.
“I can’t do anything but apologize to you, and tell you how sorry I am. I know how difficult it is, and I feel for your children. I really do,” Parks said. “The bottom line is we want kids back in the classroom. That’s the best place for them, but we can’t do that without notice from the governor’s office. We will continue to push for that.”
Blake Ovard may be reached at .