New Mexico schools have been ranked as last of all 50 states. With the closure of in-person learning the state is now worse.
Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart recently announced the state has no idea where 12,000 students who were enrolled in New Mexico schools just last year have gone.
But while the state may not know, or doesn’t want to admit, local districts know where almost every student who was enrolled last year, but currently are not enrolled, have gone.
“The state came out with this 12,000 students who were missing. That is so inaccurate. That is such poor data, it’s unbelievable,” Hobbs Municipal Schools Superintendent TJ Parks said. “It’s really frustrating because they have 470 students in Hobbs for us to not know where they were. It’s really 58. They have that data, and just didn’t look at it. … It’s just frustrating that they sent out bad information.”
“That’s absolutely not true (not knowing where the students are)… They are not missing. We know where they are,” Lovington Municipal Schools Superintendent LeAnne Gandy said agreeing with Parks.
On Friday the PED announced they “found” 4,926 of those “missing” 12,000 students, presumably by finally looking at some of the information sent in from districts around the state.
In fact, more than 1,600 Lea County students have left school districts in the county.
Many of those students in have gone to Texas. The reason? Texas schools are open for students to attend class in person. Texas schools also rank higher in the quality of education, coming in near the middle at number 33 by U.S. News & World Report, while New Mexico come in dismally last at number 50 in PreK-12th grade education.
But, attending school in Texas isn’t an easy option. School districts in Texas don’t just accept students from out of state. Students who register for school in Texas, must live in the school district they plan on attending.
“We don’t allow out-of-state transfers,” Seminole Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Suarez told the News-Sun. “So any students we have has moved into our district.”
And, Suarez said there have been about 62 Lea County students who have moved into the district to attend Seminole schools, and they are expecting another 17 students to join Seminole ISD starting in the second semester on Jan. 5 when school starts again.
“At our elementary campuses, which include K-5th grade, we have 35. At our junior high level we have 13, and at our high school we have 14,” Suarez said.
She said there are numerous calls from parents in New Mexico about enrolling their students in Seminole schools almost every day of the week.
“We do require a proof of residency as well,” she said. “So, the 62 kids that we have (who moved from New Mexico) have some sort of proof of residency in Seminole ISD boundaries.”
Parks echoed the requirements differ for Texas schools, and it is a commitment by the parents to enroll students across the state line.
“One of the things people don’t realize is that Seminole and Denver City, they require you to move there,” Parks said. “You can’t live in Hobbs and just send your kid over there.”
Hobbs Municipal Schools had an enrollment of about 10,000 students last year, but are down around 10%, loosing around 1,200 students this year, according to enrollment numbers compiled by Hobbs Assistant Superintendent for Data and Assessment Rene Cantu.
Out of those 1,232 the district is down, about 25% (312 students) have enrolled in a school districts in Texas, which is second only to 28% (351 students) who have enrolled in home school. Those students have enrolled in districts across Texas, but many have enrolled in west Texas districts close to Lea County.
“It’s about 170, 180 kids from Lubbock to Odessa. I think about 50 some-odd in Seminole and 14 in Denver City,” Parks told the News-Sun. “
Even the 58 unaccounted for students in Hobbs aren’t truly missing, as administrators have a good idea of where those students are, but can’t verify the information.
“We can’t just say, we heard them say (they were going to a particular place or dropping out). We have to have validation that they are out somewhere,” Parks said.
Likewise, other districts in Lea County are also down a number of students, who in many cases have also left New Mexico in search of better education in Texas.
“Some of them go to home school, and some of them did jump to other states,” Eunice Schools Superintendent Dwain Haynes said. He does have a positive outlook on schools opening again and expects many of the students to come back once schools are open again in New Mexico.
The Eunice School district is d ow n about 80 students in year over year comparison at the 80th day mark. The total enrollment in Eunice was 740 students at the 80th day, whereas last year the district was at 820 students at the 80th day.
Haynes said the down economy in the state has also played a part in students leaving.
“Some have left because they just have to go get a job in the oilfield in a different area until we see what is going to happen here,” he said. “I believe with all my heart that once we open up our schools and extracurricular activities, we’re going to see some positive things happen for Lea County schools.”
Haynes thinks students could return to the classroom at the end of February, if the vaccine is successful.
While HMS has seen about 1,200 fewer students enrolled, the second largest district in the county, Lovington, has seen a drop of around 300 students who have left Lovington schools in order to have face-to-face instruction.
“We’ve had some who are choosing to home school, because they are wanting hands on,” Gandy said. “We have some who have gone to private school, again for the face-to-face because they don’t have the restrictions we do. And, honestly, we’ve had numerous kids go to Texas.”
Gandy said Lovington students have been fairly evenly spread out between the west Texas districts of Denver City, Seminole and Lubbock.
“Denver City, Seminole, and even Lubbock. We’ve had some move to Lubbock (in order to go to school in person),” she said. “Some have moved out of state because parents lost jobs and they went somewhere else looking for jobs. The ones to Texas have mainly been there for sports or face-to-face learning.”
Like other school administrators in the county, Gandy feels positive students will come back to school if they are allowed to have in-person learning. The district had 3,523 at the 80th day. “That was our lowest enrollment for the 80th day since 2012-2013,” Gandy said.
“Many have told us, when you get back face-to-face, we’ll be back,” she added.
One key could be many students in Lea County have relatives who live in Texas, Gandy said.
“A lot of our (students) have relatives over there they are living with until they can come back in person,” Gandy told the News-Sun. “I don’t blame parents for making the best decision they can for their kiddos.”
Jal, affected by oilfield fluctuations more than many other cities in Lea County, has also seen a number of students leave the district to attend school in Texas.
“They’re going back to Texas,” Jal Superintendent Brian Snider said. “The oilfield changes our whole dynamic like no where else in New Mexico. … You’ve got Odessa 60 miles away and Kermit 19 miles away, and we get a lot of students from there. So they move in, and there was no school, so they’ll go back (to Texas) so they can go to school.”
Jal is 60-65 students below where the district was last year at this time with Snider said, with a district enrollment of 480 students. Last year the district fluctuated between 520-540 students.
Parents say the move is for a number of reasons.
Amber Cervantes moved to Seminole because, with school closures in New Mexico, her three children — in 1st, 4th, and 5th grades — were falling further and further behind. Her three children will start school in Seminole in January.
“They’re not getting an education here,” she told the News-Sun. “They have no activities, no sports. In Seminole they can go to school full time. I think going to Texas is the best thing for my children to get an education.”
New Mexico children and parents are loosing many things with schools and business being shut down Cervantes said.
“It’s crazy how our governor can travel and go out of town and not worry about (southeastern New Mexico),” she said. “It would have been nice if she would have tried to make contact with parents of the child who committed suicide … her reaching out could have meant something. Our governor doesn’t care.”
She also noted that Texas schools are ahead of New Mexico schools.
“They’re a grade above,” Cervantes said of Texas schools. “I would tell (anyone looking to the best interest of their children in education) to move to Seminole to get the education they need. There is nothing getting done here (in New Mexico).”
Suarez agreed the Seminole ISD is ahead of most Lea County schools in their curriculum.
“We’re a ‘B’ school district, which is a good thing in Texas, so our kids perform well, and our teachers work hard,” Suarez said. “Seminole ISD is an absolutely outstanding school district. We actually moved to Seminole four years ago, not just for my job, but because I wanted a great place for my own daughter to be at and graduate from.”
Clarissa Hernandez, who also has three school-age children — in 3rd, 7th, and 10th grades — is considering moving to Texas just so her children can attend class in person.
“I heard Texas has really good schools. They’re a year ahead of New Mexico,” she said. “But we have a mortgage and car payments here, our work is here.
“Another reason I have considered Seminole is because a lot of their stuff is open, and they are having actual community events … it’s just alive.”
Hernandez, who has been involved as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Stewart petitioning the courts to allow schools in all districts to be able to reopen and follow the same rules across the state, said the mental well-being of school children is being ignored by the state of New Mexico. She said she would rather her children remain in New Mexico schools, but her family is considering the move, because it doesn’t look like students will be allowed back in the classroom any time soon in southeastern New Mexico.
“New Mexico is getting scary,” she said. “I’m starting to fear for my kids, especially my teenager who is 15, because the latest little boy (Kooper Davis) who committed suicide. He used to play football with my husband, my brother, my nephew, and my son. He was very respectful and had good manners. And, my husband had joked to my son (before Kooper’s tragic death) ‘you need to be more like that.’”
Hernandez said teenagers have secluded themselves inside an online world since they are bared from attending class. And, secluding them in an online only world is not good for them.
“People think the most important thing for these kids is education, but it’s not. It’s social interaction,” she said. Hernandez noted that education is important, but social interaction with education is the important factor.
“If they’re not on their computer doing homework, they’re on the PlayStation. If they’re not on the Play-Station they’re on their phones. Their time consists of starring at screens when it used to be they could go to the CORE, they could go to the football field, they could go hang out with friends at the movie, whatever it may be, but all of that is just gone,” Hernandez said. “The fact that they prefer to be at home is starting to concern me a lot. They’re turning into little hermits, and that’s not healthy for a kid.”
Hernandez said several friends have already made the move to Texas in order to give their children educational opportunities.
“One is currently looking for a house, one is looking for a place to rent, and one has already bought a house (in Seminole). I have a friend who is looking into Denver City as well,” Hernandez said. “Everyone’s situation is different. It’s kid of the price you have to pay because New Mexico is getting so ridiculous.”
With Texas schools having a residency requirement, Hernandez said rentals and houses for sale were in limited supply when her family started looking for a place.
“We looked in Seminole and found three trailers — and they were garbage — and they were $900 a month,” Hernandez said.
Suarez, who also has school-age children, said she understands parents willing to move so their children get an education.
“For my child, if I was in the private sector and could take her somewhere where I felt she needed that social interaction, then absolutely I would consider that,” Suarez said.
Hernandez said that while the COVID-19 virus is real, people should be taking care of themselves and their immune system, and not live in fear. She gives her kids higher vitamin doses, elderberries, has taught them how to cough and sneeze into their sleeves, wash their hands and use hand sanitizer, and understands the risk for a virus with a 99% survival rate.
“I would rather have my kids die living life, rather than dying at home (from being depressed from isolation),” Hernandez said. “It boils down to two things. If you’re in New Mexico, you’re choosing to live, literally like it’s socialism. … Do you want to choose to stay here and live like this under some crazy dictator that has little-man syndrome, or you go to Seminole and you live life. Sure there’s a risk, but even before COVID there was always risk of the flu.”