TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – New Mexico on Wednesday asked National Guard members and state employees to volunteer as substitute teachers to keep schools and daycare centers open during a surge in COVID-19 infections.
State employees and Guard members who take up the call to teach will get their usual pay and be considered on administrative leave or active duty, respectively, according to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
National Guard members have mobilized across the United States to help hospitals and clinics slammed by staff shortages but New Mexico appeared to be the first state to ask them to become classroom teachers.
Some 60 schools in New Mexico have gone into remote learning since the winter break and 75 child daycare centers partially or completely closed as staff tested positive for COVID-19 or quarantined, according to a statement from the governor.
“We’ve heard from multiple districts that a lack of substitute teachers is among the most critical staffing issues right now,” New Mexico Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement.
Under the staffing plan, schools will decide whether National Guard members wear uniform or civilian clothes. The reservists will be unarmed.
Guard members and state employees will undergo background checks and an online teacher training course before being sent into schools.
“It’s just a vehicle to make sure schools can stay open,” Lujan Grisham said at a press conference outside Santa Fe High School, which is operating remotely due to a lack of substitute teachers.
The pandemic has exacerbated teacher shortages in poorer U.S. states like New Mexico and neighboring Oklahoma, which on Tuesday appealed to state employees to work as classroom substitutes.
Wealthier states are also scrambling to keep schools open, with California streamlining its substitute teacher hiring process and Kansas opening up substitute positions to people with no college education.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)