Serving the High Plains

Floyd school board suspended for disregarding protocols

The Public Education Commission on Wednesday suspended the five board members for Floyd Municipal Schools for voting to disregard COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year.

The department also reinstated superintendent Damon Terry, stating in its release Terry refused to carry out the board’s wishes. The board placed Terry on paid administrative leave on Aug. 2. Board President Leon Nall told The News the board did not have a disagreement with Terry and placed him on leave to protect him.

Suspended along with Nall were board members Jeff Essary, Vicki Banister, Charlsea Lee and Ryan Bollema.

Terry will report to Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, who is slated to remain at the post until Aug. 20. The PED release said Stewart may designate the oversight elsewhere within the department. Floyd began its school year on Monday.

“The PED takes its responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all staff and students incredibly seriously,” Stewart stated in the suspension memo. “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.”

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.

According to the PED release:

• The Floyd board voted July 26 to make masks and social distancing optional and to disregard various other state guidelines on COVID-safe practices.

• A July 27 memo from Stewart advised the board their actions were inconsistent with state requirements and gave the board a noon Aug. 3 deadline to rescind its actions.

• The board took no action Aug. 2 to rescind its July 26 actions.

• Stewart called Nall before issuing the suspension and offered PED support and assistance on outdoor learning programs, testing practices and conversations with public health experts.

“While the conversation was honest and respectful,” the memo stated, “Board President Nall indicated that the board would remain firmly committed to the actions originally taken on July 26.”

The Floyd board is the third to receive a suspension during Stewart’s tenure. The Questa board was suspended in 2019 for allegations of violating the Open Meetings Act and failure to accommodate students with disabilities. The Los Lunas School board was suspended in May based on credible evidence that certain members violated procurement and public access laws and professional ethical standards.

In response to an inquiry from The News, a PED representative said the Floyd board members have a right to a hearing but are not required to request one. A hearing will be scheduled in 60 calendar days and will be presided over by an independent hearing officer appointed by the PED. After the hearing, the officer has two business days to produce a report to the education secretary. The secretary must make a decision within five business days of the hearing to make permanent, modify or withdraw the suspension. The decision can be appealed in district court.

Attempts by The News to contact board members were not successful.

The Republican Party of New Mexico issued a statement late Wednesday in support of the board, stating, “PED’s decision today to suspend the Board and to, in effect, take over Floyd schools in Roosevelt County is the latest example of New Mexico continuing to systematically peel away our freedoms and dilute local governance afforded to our citizens. Local communities should decide what’s best for its residents and our children.”

Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, and Sen. David Gallegos issued a statement after a meeting with Stewart and Steinhaus regarding the suspension: “While we appreciate the Secretary and Secretary-Designate visiting with us today, we fundamentally disagree that the Public Education Department can legally remove a duly-elected school board under the force of law when they don’t obey the edicts from the Governor’s office. This is a dangerous precedent that not only undermines the authority of all school boards, but the legislature which alone has the power to make laws. We support our local leaders and the families who voted them into office, and we hope the courts soon correct this blatant violation of local authority.”

Rendered 05/08/2024 20:51