A historic year, learning loss threatens recent educational gains

Even by the most optimistic standards, the logistics of learning in 2020 have been difficult, if not close to impossible, for a significant number of New Mexico students. Technological challenges have combined with trauma caused by COVID-19’s deadly rampage through hard-hit populations, especially the state’s Indigenous communities, to disrupt classrooms and educational plans. More than 32,000 students — or one of every 10 enrolled in public education statewide — have been referred to a state-sponsored coaching program, many for being disengaged, regularly missing classes, or in danger of failing one or more classes. Less than a quarter are participating, however. And more than half of those, or 5,173 students, are in need of the most help, according to the state education officials, meaning they endure significant on-going barriers and are receiving regular interventions, sometimes daily.Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and his staff didn’t mince words about the severity of the challenge in a December presentation of the education agency’s 2022 budgetary request to state lawmakers. 

Learning losses caused by the pandemic — particularly for at-risk students, which make up a majority of New Mexico’s student population — will likely weaken already low student outcomes, according to the 13-page memo.“Additionally, school closures and remote learning have had a dramatic impact on enrollment in many school districts, leading some school district leaders to worry about the pandemic’s impact on their school district’s finances,” they added.The state education agency went on to ask the legislators for $4 million in emergency funds, citing the possible need for additional grants in light of enrollment shifts in school districts and increased costs related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

‘We sent 500 tests. They don’t answer calls’: Inside ICE’s coronavirus testing disaster

This story was produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization. Get their investigations emailed to you directly by signing up at revealnews.org/newsletter. Kathy Kunkel, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, was frustrated. She was getting reports the first week of May of horrifying conditions at the Otero County Processing Center, one of three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities in the state. Detainees were responsible for disinfecting their own living spaces but weren’t getting adequate cleaning supplies.

Essential need for childcare workers made clear by pandemic

It’s late in the evening when I’m able to reach Yasmin Cervantes. She tells me she’s feeling nervous because she’s never done an interview before. We both chuckle. I reassure her that we’re just having a conversation about her experience. She chuckles again and begins to tell me about her day.

Census deadline moved up, surprising NM native communities

New Mexico’s tribal communities suddenly find themselves in a rush to reorganize their plans to ensure a complete census count after federal authorities on Monday abruptly moved the deadline up by a month, from the end of October to September 30. 

“We have pretty much lost a month of time to be able to gain that accurate count in our communities,” Ahtza Dawn Chavez, Executive Director of the Native American Voters Alliance Education Project, which heads up the New Mexico Native Census Coalition, told state leaders on Tuesday during a legislative hearing at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. “Our average self response rate is just over 30 percent, we have a lot of work to do going forward.” 

American Indian leaders across the country have reacted strongly to the news. In a joint statement issued Wednesday, national Native organizations said they were “deeply alarmed and concerned with this unwarranted and irresponsible decision.”  “Our tribal nations and tribal communities have been ravaged by COVID-19, and an extension of the Census enumeration period was a humane lifeline during an unprecedented global health catastrophe that provided critically needed additional time to tribal nations to ensure that all of everyone in their communities are counted,” the statement said.In a separate statement, U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, who made history in 2018 as one of two indigenous women elected to Congress, said changing the deadline “flies in the face of Director (Steven) Dillinghan’s promise to me that he understood the importance of meeting our needs.” 

The once-a-decade census count provides population numbers that determine to a large degree how much public money flows to tribes and other communities through federal, state and local funding programs. The new deadline threatens to increase chances for an undercount in tribal communities that currently have a response rate far below the national rate of 63%. 

The presentation  by Chavez to the New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the census count. Census officials need access to tribal lands to complete the count. Their work includes door-to-door drops of census packets and in-person follow-up visits to homes that haven’t responded. 

But census workers need permission of tribal authorities to enter tribal communities, and several tribes in New Mexico, which have been disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic, are currently closed to non-members due to the public health emergency.