New Mexico Education Dept. suspends school board that refused to comply with mask guidance

All 5 board members in Floyd were suspended by the state for flouting a mask mandate

New Mexico’s Public Education Department suspended an entire school board on Wednesday after members resisted Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s mask mandate for children in the classroom.

State regulators suspended the school board in response to a scuffle in a tiny village in Roosevelt County. Board members at Floyd Municipal Schools twice voted to ignore the state’s coronavirus mandate, the PED said in a statement. The board also placed the district’s superintendent on administrative leave after he disobeyed the board.

The five-member board voted last week, and again on Monday, to make masks and social distancing optional – despite warnings from the state that they could face suspensions.

A teacher in Wisconsin appeared to berate a student for not wearing a mask in two videos that have been posted online.

A teacher in Wisconsin appeared to berate a student for not wearing a mask in two videos that have been posted online. (iStock)

New Mexico Education Secretary Ryan Stewart also moved to reinstate the superintendent, Damon Terry.

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"We cannot put students, staff and their families at unnecessary risk as we continue the fight against the Delta variant," Stewart wrote in a memo to the board. "By ignoring these basic safety measures, the board impairs the ability of the district to offer safe and uninterrupted in-person learning opportunities."

The Albuquerque-based KOAT-TV identified Leon Nall, Jeff Essary, Vicki Banister, Charlsea Lee, and Ryan Bollema as the suspended board members.

"We must get our kids back into classrooms safely, and local school boards must make their own decisions," Steve Pearce, chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico, told the station. "The Republican Party stands shoulder to shoulder with the Floyd School Board and all other boards that refuse to accept these statewide orders from Santa Fe."

While some districts have already adopted Grisham’s mask guidance, critics strongly oppose the idea.

State Sen. David Gallegos, a Republican from Eunice who sits on a different school board, questioned the legality of the PED suspensions.

"[The board members] represented the best interests of the children in their district," he told the Associated Press. "This gross violation of local authority is disrespectful to the students and families of Floyd and may even be a violation of New Mexico law."

Floyd has just 225 students and 20 teachers.

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New Mexico health data shows the vaccine rate for residents 18 years old and older at just over 65%. 

Prior coronavirus restrictions in the state had been lifted on July 1.

The spread of the delta variant and eased restrictions preceded a rise in confirmed new infections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.