As school districts across the country scramble to find substitute teachers to fill in for instructors out sick with covid-19, New Mexico is tapping into unconventional resources for help: the National Guard and state employees.
“Our schools are a critical source of stability for kids — we know they learn better in the classroom and thrive among their peers,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release. “The state stands ready to help keep kids in the classroom, parents able to go to work and teachers able to fully focus on the critical work they do every single day.”
Government employees and National Guard members who volunteer will be placed on administrative leave or active-duty status and receive their normal salaries.
Employers across various industries are reeling from staff shortages as the omicron variant spreads throughout the country. Hospitals, grocery stores and airlines are all struggling to keep up with demand as employees call out because they are sick or need to quarantine after being exposed to the virus.
Staff shortages at schools have been a primary concern for government officials, who worry about how a third year of instability will affect students. Some school districts have taken creative steps to keep students in classrooms and operations running. Superintendents in Texas and Michigan have asked parents to volunteer as substitutes. In Vermont, school board members have filled in as custodial workers, and in Georgia, a school principal has been helping out in the cafeteria. In Delaware, a charter school offered to pay parents $700 to take their children to school and pick them up at the end of the day.
The National Guard has also been a crucial resource for some states. In September, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) made 250 National Guard personnel available to drive school buses. Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland asked for similar assistance last week. On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued an executive order allowing state employees to volunteer as substitute teachers while maintaining their usual salaries.
In New Mexico, several school districts have struggled to keep up with staffing shortages. Since winter break, about 60 districts and charter schools have shifted to online schooling, according to the governor’s office. About 75 child care centers have either partially or permanently closed since the new year.
The governor said she is hopeful that at least 500 National Guard members and state employees, from a pool of 4,000 troops and 16,000 government workers, will volunteer for the initiative. Lujan Grisham added that volunteers will be put through a background check and an online training workshop.
“We’ve determined that we have enough state employees, with the volunteer support with the Guard, to get to that 500 fairly readily, and that’s just looking at key departments like the education department and veterans’ department,” Lujan Grisham said at a news conference Wednesday.
The governor added that the main objective is to keep schools open.
“Our kids, our teachers and our parents deserve as much stability as we can provide during this time of uncertainty,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement.