SANTA FE – The five-member Floyd School Board (near Portales) was suspended today after twice voting to disregard the New Mexico Public Education Department’s (NMPED) COVID-19 Safe Practices for school reentry and then placing on administrative leave the superintendent who refused to carry out the board’s wishes.
Following the order suspending board members Leon Nall, Jeff Essary, Vicki Banister, Charlsea Lee and Ryan Bollema, Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart reinstated Superintendent Damon Terry.
For now, Terry will report directly to Stewart, whose resignation, announced last week, is effective Aug. 20. Stewart may designate that oversight to someone else, as he has done in previous cases.
“The PED takes its responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all staff and students incredibly seriously. We cannot put students, staff and their families at unnecessary risk as we continue the fight against the Delta variant. By ignoring these basic safety measures, the board impairs the ability of the district to offer safe and uninterrupted in-person learning opportunities,” Stewart said in the suspension memo.
The Floyd board voted July 26 at a special meeting to make masks and social distancing optional and to disregard state guidelines on indoor air quality, transportation, surveillance testing and other COVID Safe Practices.
Stewart sent board members a memo the next day, advising that their actions were inconsistent with state requirements, which align with guidance from national health experts — including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics — to protect the health and safety of staff and students and to prevent a disruption of in-person learning from spread of the COVID-19 virus.
That memo gave the Floyd board a deadline of noon Tuesday to rescind its actions or face, among other consequences, suspension of the school board.
Before issuing the suspension, Stewart called Nall, the board president, on Tuesday, offering PED support and assistance to establish an outdoor learning program, to streamline testing practices, to facilitate conversations with public health experts, and to collaborate with the district to address safety implementation concerns.
“While the conversation was honest and respectful, Board President Nall indicated that the board would remain firmly committed to the actions originally taken on July 26,” Stewart’s memo said.
The board met in special session Monday, voting to uphold its July 26 decision and to disregard the memo from PED.
Floyd Municipal Schools operates an elementary, middle and high school serving about 225 students in all. The district has about 20 teachers and 22 support staff members, along with the superintendent and a principal.
“The board’s actions placed educators in the untenable position of, on the one hand, risking adverse licensure measures for violating PED guidance on COVID Safe Practices, and on the other hand, risking adverse employment measures if they followed COVID Safe Practices in contravention of the board’s actions,” the memo noted.
While suspended, school board members may not carry out board functions, use district property, devices or technology, and may not use the district email system. In addition, they may not be represented by the district’s legal counsel.
This is the third school board suspension during this administration. Stewart suspended the Questa Board of Education on Nov. 12, 2019, citing unstable leadership, chronic failure to accommodate students with disabilities and multiple violations of New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act. On May 26, he suspended the Los Lunas School Board based on credible evidence that certain members persistently violated procurement and public access laws, the state Public School Code, and professional ethical standards.
The New Mexico Public Education Department partners with educators, communities and families to ensure that all students are healthy, secure in their identity and holistically prepared for college, career and life. Currently, the NMPED serves more than 317,000 students in 187 districts and charter schools. Find an abundance of resources for administrators, educators, families and students at New Mexico Public Education Department (state.nm.us) or follow the PED at NMPublicEducationDepartment on Facebook and @NMPED on twitter.