New Mexico National Guard members this week started volunteering as substitute teachers amid teacher shortages in the state.
Fifty Guard personnel have received teaching licenses, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Public Education Department told The Epoch Times in an email.
They were among the 108 who applied for substitute teacher applications after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, on Jan. 19 urged Guard members to get licenses to work as substitute teachers or child care workers.
Grisham noted that many child care facilities have temporarily closed, while some schools have stopped teaching in-person classes in recent weeks after staff members tested positive for COVID-19 or were identified as close contacts, forcing them to isolate for five days.
Since winter break, 60 school districts and charter schools have shut down in-person learning and 75 child care facilities have partially or completely closed due to staffing shortages.
New Mexico officials asked for volunteers from the state National Guard and state agencies, a move that drew support from the Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent, the New Mexico Parent Teacher Association, and American Federation of Teachers New Mexico.
“Targeted use of state workers and National Guard members will help ease the dire need for substitute teachers in our schools,” Whitney Holland, president of the latter, said in a statement.
To help promote the effort, the governor herself plans to substitute teach, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
The office of the governor, which said about 800 substitute teachers and child care workers were needed, did not respond to a request for more details.
Hobbs Municipal Schools said two National Guard members, specialist Cassandra Sierra and Sgt. 1st Class Clarence Galassini, subbed for keyboarding and veterinary science classes this week. Photographs from the district showed the members teaching in classes while in uniform.
Members started teaching on Monday, according to the education department spokeswoman.
The New Mexico National Guard was asked whether it supported the initiative. It did not respond.
National Guard members have helped with various tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic such as manning testing sites but have not appeared to help fill teaching positions until now.
A recent request for Maryland National Guard members to fill in for sick bus drivers was rejected by the Guard, which said it was focused on supporting hospitals, nursing homes, and testing sites.
Kim Skaggs, the Republican Party of New Mexico’s executive director, decried the governor’s effort.
“Once again the Governor isn’t putting New Mexico students first. Our children are now being taught by people who are not certified educators. It’s clear that students are not the Governor’s priority when it comes to education. You need quality teachers in our schools. Our education system remains the worst in the nation. This is an act of desperation and poor government leadership. New Mexico’s National Guard shouldn’t be put into this position. It’s unfair to them and it’s unfair to our students,” Skaggs said in a statement.
She also called the governor going to teach “a publicity stunt.”
But Mary Parr-Sanchez, president of the National Education Association New Mexico, a teacher’s union, said the Guard is doing what it always has.
“NM Schools are in crisis. Governors deploy the National Guard when there is a crisis, so I think it makes sense to send the National Guard, especially if we want to keep schools open. Schools have staff that need to quarantine, or the staff are sick with COVID themselves—many for the 2nd or 3rd time. Parents depend on schools being opened to go to work. The National Guard can help keep schools staffed to keep them open, but it is a very short-term solution,” she told The Epoch Times in an email.
Parr-Sanchez also called for searching for solutions to the extreme childhood poverty rates in the state instead of “teacher blame” as one longer-term solution to what she described as “an extreme educator shortage.”