Back in the old days, many a war movie often included this adage: “Never volunteer.” But that was then, and this is now. New Mexico, like the rest of America, is in crisis mode. It’s real, not a movie.
The omicron virus is killing and infecting scores of residents. On Friday, January 21, the state of New Mexico reported thirty additional deaths and more than six thousand additional cases. Because of the spike, many school districts throughout the state, already facing critical teacher shortages, are shutting their doors, turning to remote education wherever possible.
As a result, New Mexico Governor Michelle Luhan Grisham asked members of the National Guard and state employees to volunteer as substitute teachers and childcare workers. This is not a forced march. The governor is seeking volunteers not draftees. Indeed, Luhan Grisham reportedly will do a bit of substitute teaching herself. After all, she is a state employee too. Yes, she is a Democrat. Why should that matter?
Many states are using the National Guard to assist hospitals suffering similar staff shortages at a time when beds are at a premium and patients are dying in this midst of this surge. Last year, Massachusetts mobilized its National Guard to support Covid testing on school campuses and to drive school buses. This year Oklahoma, like New Mexico, is sending state employees into the schools to substitute.
New Mexico’s use of the National Guard to teach is a first, but it’s completely within the Guard’s duties. The National Guard exists to serve country and community in several ways, including domestic emergencies. The pandemic qualifies as a domestic emergency.
Questions have been asked. Do these volunteers know how to teach? They’re going to get a quickie course on the how-to of substitute teaching. Yes, there will be background checks. Will they wear uniforms? Each participating school will decide whether their subs will wear uniforms or street clothes. Camo and boots might be just the thing for many of these classes. They will not be armed. There is no guarantee all of their students will not be armed. School shootings are on the rise. Bullet proof vests may soon be on the list of required school supplies. Will they accept apples. Probably, everyone likes to be treated with respect. Got that, Mr. Republican?
Of course, there’s partisan back biting. Republican House Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia, New Mexico blasted the governor for calling in the wrong people to resolve a crisis of her own making. “She wants to be a hero when her administration does something unusual just to cover up her failure to put together a plan that works,” Townsend said. “They’re not teachers. That’s not what they’re trained to do.”
These people are trained to serve, Mr. Republican. That means soldier on in times of trouble while school districts work to hire more teachers. If we could work together, together – that’s one plus one, Republican and Democrat – maybe we could solve this horrific health crisis that has affected everyone.