Some schools shift slowly to hybrid models
As COVID cases fall nationally, some New Mexico schools have taken advantage of the lowered risk of community spread by adopting a hybrid learning model that allows some in-person classroom time. Both Pecos and Mora school districts are moving into hybrid models gradually by staggering the return for different grades of middle and high school students, as reported in the Las Vegas Optic. By limiting the number of people on campus at a given time in this way, the school is better able to facilitate and enforce social distancing, keeping students and staff safe.
Even with some on-campus time, however, students will still have few classes that are taught in person. Instead, they will use on-campus time mostly to continue to attend online classes and complete digital assignments, working from campus classrooms rather than from home. This allows small groups of students to work together in a shared space and enables in-person social interactions with peers. Santa Fe Public Schools, facing the reluctance of many unvaccinated teachers to return to campuses, is leveraging the hybrid model to re-vision how on-campus learning can occur. Following informal learning models used by non-traditional schools and higher education, the district is introducing “internet cafe” style environments and providing opportunities for brief one on one learning and support sessions through "help desks". Participation in the hybrid learning model is optional for families, and at present is not available for many elementary school students in many districts.
Both the Las Vegas City Schools and the West Las Vegas School district have voted to remain in distance learning mode exclusively until the end of the year, as has the Belen district in Valencia County. Other districts, such as Roswell, are returning to in-person learning more rapidly.
New resources from the Villanueva Library
The Villanueva David Cargo Library at the El Valle Community Center is now offering Electronic Library Accounts. An Electronic Library Account (ELA) will provide immediate access to our growing digital collections as well as to digital resources from the New Mexico State Library. Together, these include:
Politics and violence
As our understanding of last week’s riot at the Capitol continues to develop, it has become clear that the potential for serious violence against congressional members was much higher than originally recognized. While some who stormed the Capitol appeared to behave more as tourists than threats, it is now clear that community political leaders and law enforcement officials also participated in the riots, along with groups of white nationalists and QAnon supporters. Evidence from social media, comments from participants, and messages left during the riot show that many in the crowd had serious intention of harming, kidnapping, or even executing members of congress and the Vice President. Simultaneously, we have learned that calls for assistance from additional protective forces, including the National Guard, went unheeded for hours, despite repeated calls from Capitol police and congressional leaders. Taken together, the last week reveals just how close we came to a deadly political insurrection taking place within the halls of congress.
Police and National Guard presence in Washington D.C. escalated dramatically this week as Senators and Representatives returned to Congress, and images of guardsmen splayed out on the Capitol floor seemed almost humorous in their excess. Yet threats of ongoing violent assaults by Trump supporters on government buildings continues, with state capitols put on alert to anticipate such attacks and local officials urging residents to avoid state capitols this weekend and up to the inauguration this Thursday. In response to last weeks events and credible threats of attacks at government buildings across the country, Governor Lujan-Grisham declared a pre-emptive state of emergency in New Mexico that would allow the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to lead the response to such an attack and release as many National Guard units as were deemed necessary. Fencing is continuing to be installed around the state capitol.
Virus, vaccines, virtual learning
The challenges of the pandemic continue despite the roll out of the vaccine as cases of COVID-19 hit 2 million worldwide. In New Mexico, Harding County earned a “green” ranking in the Department of Health “Red to Green” framework, with a total of zero cases during the last two-week period. Union County moved to “yellow” while the rest of the state remained in the “red” zone. As of January 13th, San Miguel County was “improving” in its case numbers but still reported 38 per 100,000. The number of cases in the state have averaged over 1000 per day for more than a week. Most New Mexico schools, including both the Las Vegas and West Las Vegas districts, will remain in “remote learning” mode when they re-open next week. A full list of districts and their re-entry status is provided on this updated school re-entry status listing.
Vaccines have begun to be distributed in the state and numbers are expected to increase once the Biden administration takes office. In his address yesterday evening, President Elect Biden outlined a plan that “would direct roughly $400 billion to the public health crisis” created by the pandemic, that including $20 billion “toward a vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, tribes and territories. His package also included increasing the previous $600 stimulus payment checks to $2000 and another $130 billion for helping schools meet safety standards of re-opening safely during a pandemic. Employment benefits and eviction protections will also both be expanded, as will assistance for small businesses and local governments.
Villanueva Library at El Valle Community Center
The Villanueva Library will re-open for curb-side pick up and for services by appointment beginning Tuesday January 19th. Patrons may find and reserve books for pick up by using the library catalog. Instructions for searching for books using the catalog are available on the Villanueva Library curbside pick-up instruction sheet. Other services available by appointment include printing, scanning, faxing, and use of public computer access computers and wifi. To sign up for services or for other questions, please call 575-421-0808 or 505-660-3434.
Votes and violence
The upheaval of yesterdays events is over for the moment, but many of us are still processing the scale and depth of what occurred. While we gather additional insights, it’s helpful to review the facts as we know them thus far. Here is a brief summary of events as of late Thursday afternoon.
Yesterday, January 6th, Congress met in joint session to record and certify electoral college votes previously tallied and approved by each state. The process of certifying these validated state counts is a procedural step in the complete presidential election process that ends with the inauguration on January 20th.
Prior to yesterday’s convening, President Trump had raised questions about the validity of some of the state’s certifications, based on unfounded claims of voter fraud, and active support for this claim from several Republican Senators and Representatives had led them to plan objections to some state counts during the certification session. The President promoted these objections with the hope of convincing Congress to disqualify enough states to be able to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Trump had also requested the Vice-President, who oversees the congressional certification, to invalidate the counts from those several states (something the Vice-President does not legally have the authority to do).
Communications by Trump to his followers in recent weeks had also targeted the joint certification session, calling on supporters to gather in Washington D.C. on January 6th to “save our democracy” from voter fraud and a “stolen” election. Thwarted by Vice-President Pence’s refusal to comply with the request to block state certified counts, Trump met his followers near the capitol, urging them to “fight hard” to overturn Biden’s win. Encouraged and emboldened by the president’s remarks, crowds converged on the capitol building, breached the entrances, overwhelmed local police, and entered Congress as the certification process was under way.
For the next four hours, House and Senate members sheltered in place or were evacuated to secure rooms as protestors moved through the building, defacing offices and reportedly “looking for Pence” and other individuals who Trump supporters now considered their enemies. By dusk, four people had died, one of a gunshot wound and three of medical emergencies sparked by the unfurling events.
Despite the unprecedented and violent nature of the Capitol assault, no response or directive was forthcoming from the President or his administration during this time. As the hours passed, there were repeated and increasingly loud calls from current and past administration officials, as well as from President-elect Joe Biden, urging the president to address his supporters and direct them to leave the Capitol. Reports from within the White House during this time state that Trump appeared enthusiastic about the attack and resisted or delayed calling for the national guard, which could have supported the overwhelmed capitol police and brought order to the site more quickly. Shortly after 4:00 p.m., and under growing pressure, Trump issued a brief message that re-iterated false claims of election fraud. Voicing admiration for his supporters, who were still in the Capitol where the Vice-President and others were sequestered, protected by a few lone security staff, the President ended his message saying to the attackers: “go home, we love you.” Within an hour, with Vice-President Mike Pence speaking for the White House, the national guard was deployed to clear the area.
Determined not to be frustrated in carrying out their duties, Congress re-convened in the evening and, working until the early hours of Thursday, completed the certification process. Democratic Senators Heinrich and Lujan, as well as Representative Legere, all voiced their desire to resume the work of governing and complete the tasks as planned. While several Republicans did abandon their objections in response to the link that the recent Capitol attack had created between a false narrative of election fraud and armed insurrection, several Senators and over 100 Representatives were undeterred and raised objections to state certified counts for Pennsylvania. New Mexico Republican Representative Yvette Herrell was one of the objectors. These challenges were defeated and Congress adjourned having formally certified Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice-President of the United States.
The assault on the Capitol reverberated across the country as other, smaller disturbances at state government offices occurred in capitol cities. In Santa Fe, approximately 500 Trump supporters, some on horseback, arrived at the capitol building, which was quickly evacuated and closed. No one was injured.
As information about yesterday’s events is reviewed and debated, there has been growing alarm about the President’s role in encouraging the attack on the Capitol and the absence of leadership he displayed as events unfolded. Several key Republican leaders broke with the president late yesterday, including Vice-President Pence and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, both of whom had been strong Trump supporters previously. With mounting criticisms from high ranking political leaders in both parties, and several abrupt resignations from current administration officials during the past 24 hours, concern over the nation’s safety under President Trump’s final days in office has grown. The actions and gestures that play out over the coming days will continue to address these issues and will set the tone for the opening days of the new administration. In the meantime, the images of yesterday will remain vivid in our minds.
In a press conference delivered yesterday afternoon, New Mexico Governor Lujan-Grisham explained details of the county-by-county process that will govern the state's re-opening beginning Wednesday December 2nd, when the two-week "reset" shutdown ends. The process uses a "red to green" coding system for counties based on the relative risk of transmission in each county as indicated by two markers in the state's gating criteria as measured during the previous two-week period: a test positivity rate of 5% or lower and a number of cases per 100,000 residents of 8 or fewer. With this process, counties will be able to move towards reopening as they meet the criteria for these sequenced "red-yellow-green" stages. The three levels and the criteria for each are:
While cases have leveled off somewhat in recent days, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Scrase emphasized that case numbers are still very high. New Mexico now ranks fifth nationally in the number of COVID cases per capita, with Gallup and Roswell amongst the highest ranking of metro areas nationally. At the same time, many of our state hospitals are already operating at full or over-capacity. Nevertheless, both he and the governor expressed guarded optimism that this staged "red to green" system, combined with the ongoing COVID-safe practices such as mask-wearing and social distancing by all New Mexicans, will allow the state to avoid or at least manage a further surge in the coming months.
Local leadership can assist in moving counties forward from red to green by exemplifying, encouraging, and, when needed, enforcing COVID safe practices in their communities. At the individual level, modeling mask wearing, giving shout outs to NM Safe Certified businesses, and promoting frequent testing through example can all help encourage safe public health habits. Municipalities can distribute basic PPE (e.g. masks) at local businesses and engage in frequent, community outreach, utilizing multiple media channels, including platforms targeting the unconnected portion of the population. And, when needed, non-compliant entities can be clearly reminded that adherence to COVID safe behaviors is the only way we have of preventing deaths and moving our region and our local economy forward to the next, "greener," stage of re-opening.
You can view the complete slideshow for the press conference here.
Covid and closures
As the number od COVID cases iin NM continues to climb and remain high, many communities are responding with increased restrictions in addition to those set by the state. Noting the risk posed statewide and locally, Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo issued a curfew for “every day of the week for the hours between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.” effective through November 6th. In Las Cruces, in Dona Ana County, which has seen the highest number of cases statewide on several days during the past week, Mayor Miyagashima issued an emergency proclamation increasing enforcement of mask wearing and closing the city’s indoor recreation facilities for a week.
In addition, the first winter storm, which has sent welcome moisture to much of the drought-stricken state, has caused delays and closed several facilities, including the Las Vegas Abe Montoya Recreation Center and the San Miguel County magistrate court. Between virus numbers and snow accumulation, it seems a good time to stay home for a few days, if possible.
At the Center - Food and Agriculture
The EVCC is winding down a successful produce distribution program that was made possible by funding from the New Mexico Farmers' Marketing Association. The program allowed the distribution of bags of produce to over 40 participants, including seniors and other community members in the El Valle region. Funding allowed the center to support local agriculture by purchasing produce from growers in the valley and distributing it locally to those in need. This benefitted the community and local agriculture by increasing incentives for growers to distribute their product locally, making it possible to keep locally grown food in the area and providing a food resource in a community that is classified, despite its rich agricultural tradition, as a food desert due to an absence of grocery retail outlets. The Center plans to expand the program next year to include a local farmers market outlet and a subscription CSA.
Additionally the food front – starting in late November, the Community Center will become a distribution point for the ECHO commodity food program for seniors living in the El Valle region. The program includes distribution of food boxes every other month to anyone over 60 who meets the income criteria of need. To learn more, consult the program flier and fill out a program application. For more information, contact the El Valle Community ‘Center at 505-660-3434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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