American Federation of Teachers (AFT) New Mexico President Stephanie Ly released the following statement:
As COVID-19 rages through McKinley County and the citizens struggle to find a way through this long, dark winter, one man is squandering our community’s scarce resources on a personal political vendetta — apparently oblivious to its cost in lives.
Gallup McKinley County Schools Superintendent Mike Hyatt has assembled an army of lawyers, at no small taxpayer cost, to wage a war that will make its schools more perilous, simply because he doesn’t like to be told what to do.
Hyatt is the ringleader in a lawsuit against New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, asking the Court to declare that the State of New Mexico has no authority to provide direction to him about how to make our schools safe.
This expensive war of power, fueled by New Mexico tax dollars, comes at a time when Gallup McKinley County Schools just disclosed that it has 691 classrooms for which it cannot currently provide safe ventilation. The question is simple: pay an army of Chicago lawyers to fight the Governor and Secretary Stewart or use that money to reduce the number of unsafe classrooms endangering the community? Superintendent Hyatt has answered that question for us — pay the lawyers first.
According to the World Health Organization, “ventilation is an important factor in preventing the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading indoors.” In consultation with such International experts, Gov. Lujan Grisham and Secretary Stewart have led the way in New Mexico to ensure that high-quality air-filtration is in place in Gallup Schools. According to the New Mexico PED (as supported by the scientific community), “the target level for filtration in schools is minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) 13 or higher. On average, this will remove 75 percent of particles size of .3 to 1.0 ppm. This higher standard of filtration is more effective at removing viral particles from the air”.
NMPED has pledged to work with the District to accomplish safe ventilation: “NMPED will work with each district and school to ensure installation of high-quality air filters.” And our need couldn’t be greater: the District recently reported to the PED that it has 691 classrooms for which it cannot provide safe ventilation. 691 unsafe classrooms.
So, what’s best for the community, its children, its families? It’s pretty obvious isn’t it: Hyatt needs to work with the PED to fix our classrooms. What choice has Hyatt made? He’s decided to use our resources -– not on low-cost ventilation systems — but on a war against being told what to do.
This arrogance is not isolated; unfortunately, this is how our District has operated over the last year. When community members or staff expressed their concerns about Hyatt’s failure to prioritize the safety of our staff and students, he attacked first. After being ordered by the Court earlier this fall to comply with safe school guidelines, he attacked his staff, the PED and anyone else critical of his actions.
Settled scientific research established long ago in this COVID-19 war that the battle is airborne and certain filters and other low-cost mitigation strategies are needed to keep students and staff safe. Hyatt didn’t just refuse to provide low-cost mitigation for his schools — he decided to take those resources to wage an expensive legal battle in order to refuse to comply with these efforts to keep Gallup-McKinley schools safe.
It bears repeating: 691 Gallup McKinley classrooms are unsafe and Superintendent Hyatt’s focus is not on making them safe, but on high priced litigation intent on proving that the PED can’t tell him what to do. Efforts by fearful staff to inform the public about this situation has resulted in at least one staff member being forcefully interrogated by a former State Police Officer to reveal the anonymous sources relied upon by the public and news agencies.
And sadly, there is no perceived disrespect too small for Superintendent Hyatt. Consider this: Last week, Superintendent Hyatt refused to bargain with the Employees’ Union on a relatively minor matter, relating to the computer policy form to be signed by remote employees. Instead of holding a statutorily required conversation with the Union, Hyatt insisted on acting unilaterally — which was brought to the attention of the State Labor Board. He brought four high-paid lawyers to the hearing and fought for hours. The conversation with the Union would have been cheaper, quicker and would have boosted the morale of a beaten down work force. But again — perceived disrespect will not be tolerated — pay the lawyers first.
Political wars have their place in American democracy, but everything has its time and its place. This is not the time for this silly political war. Now is the time for our Superintendent to set aside his petty grievances and begin to direct the resources we have entrusted him with to fight the real war — the war against COVID-19, for the health and safety of our community.