Floyd school board forced to rework mask policy after voting to not require masks indoors

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FLOYD, N.M. — There’s at least one school district in New Mexico that is pushing back against the state’s requirements on mask-wearing.

According to the New Mexico Public Education Department’s latest toolkit, districts must at least have these requirements:

  • For elementary schools: All students, staff and volunteers will have to wear masks indoors and on school buses.
  • For middle and high schools: Students, staff, and volunteers who are fully vaccinated, and provide that documentation, do not have to wear masks indoors or on buses. Those who are unvaccinated or don’t provide documentation will have to wear a mask.

In Roosevelt County, the school board in Floyd already voted to not require masks indoors. The state’s Public Education Department said it will force the district to comply.

It’s going to be a tense meeting when the school board meets again to take action on COVID safety protocols for the district. Floyd School Board President Leon Nall and the rest of the board voted on protocols last week — before they got the guidelines from the NMPED.

"I don’t think the Department of Education understands what’s going on in rural America," Nall said.

State Rep. James Townsend said he’s been hearing about similar issues all over the state. Townsend and state Rep. Jack Chatfield sent a letter to the education department, responding to what Townsend called "bullying tactics" from NMPED Secretary Ryan Stewart.

"Our intent was to ask the PED to slow down and listen to local school boards," Townsend said.

A letter from Stewart, who is leaving office, stated he respects what the school board is trying to do, but said he can’t allow them to "knowingly put members at risk by ignoring scientific and medical guidelines."

In Floyd, the school board said they just wanted to try something new after 18 months of restrictions that they feel have not worked in their community.

"If anyone feels safer with a mask, we have no objections to them wearing masks," Nall said. "If anyone has a fear of what we are doing, we will make the accomodations."

Those accomodations include virtual learning options for families who want to go that route.

In Floyd, the average class size is about 12 students. The district said last year they saw many students move to nearby Texas districts or private schools. Their guidelines are meant to help attract students back.

The special school board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday. The district has until Aug. 3 to rescind the actions voted on earlier or adopt a course of action that complies with the published health and safety guidelines.

Townsend said the state policy shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all and not everything should hinge on Albuquerque.

However, the COVID numbers in Roosevelt County are worse than in Bernaillo County.

Over about the past two weeks, the case rate and the test positivity rate are higher — and just a third of the county is fully vaccinated. The CDC also ranks Roosevelt County in the highest transmission level category.

The CDC and other infectious disease experts say that masks protect those around the mask-wearer, and are a great tool to prevent the spread in areas with high transmission rates.