FILE - Classroom teacher

A teacher calls on a student in a classroom.

(The Center Square) – A bill to extend a school year ravaged by the coronavirus is taking flak from a New Mexico teacher’s union.

The bill, introduced by Albuquerque Democratic Mimi Stewart, calls for an extension of the school year to help students make up for time they have lost during the pandemic.

But the National Education Association in New Mexico opposes the extension, pointing out it would take away from teacher’s much-needed vacations during the summer and could damage teacher retention.

The bill comes in the wake of a foul up for teacher vaccinations in New Mexico.

While teachers in the state have priority for vaccinations, shots were cancelled in January for teachers at larger school districts, some at the very last moment as they gathered to receive the shots. The state blamed the cancellations on poor communication with health officials and the national lack of supply.

That has not set well with teachers.

In a survey about to be released by the NEA New Mexico from more than 3,000 New Mexico educators, more than 75% said they consider COVID-19 as a “risk” or “high risk” problem to their health and their lives.

“A majority of the members,” the release said, “are worried or very worried that districts will bring staff back in-person prior to them being vaccinated.”

The survey points to other problems facing teachers during the pandemic, among them:

  • 56 percent said they had students who had been infected with the virus.
  • Over one out of 5 respondents said they were “never provided PPE while working under a hybrid model or when working at school during the pandemic.”
  • About 15 percent said they rarely or never were able to maintain social distancing guidelines.

“NEA-New Mexico demands that districts partner with educators and parents in reopening,” said NEA New Mexico President Mary Parr-Sanchez. “In places where districts are considering expanding in-person learning, districts must collaborate with educators to agree on a reopening plan, which should include educator vaccinations.”

And while there is some support for a return to in-person learning because of its effectiveness, the union issued a call for proper protocols to protect teachers and students.

“The majority of our members, however, are not willing to risk their lives and the lives of their students and the families in their community, prior to vaccinations,” the statement said. “NEA-NM continues to advocate for vaccinations prior to in-person learning.”

The union, the largest in the state, plans to organize members to lobby against the bill.

The state’s teacher shortage is already a significant problem.

Indeed, the Espanola school board in northern New Mexico in January labeled the teacher shortage a “public health emergency.” The report cited low teacher pay and lack of a system for development of young teachers.

From the 2014-2015 school year to 2019-2020, the state Public Education Department said teaching positions fell by 1,521.

According to WalletHub, a personal finance web site that tracks economic and other trends, New Mexico and New Hampshire are the two worst states in the country for teachers, according to a September 2020 report. New Mexico was 50 and New Hampshire ranked 51.