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NEA Las Cruces: Losing One Child, Teacher Or Staff Member Is Too Many

Arvind Balaraman

A survey from The National Education Association of Las Cruces finds many teachers have unreported underlying medical conditions. 

“It's going to be devastating if we end up losing one child, or one teacher, or you know, one staff member, that's too many,” Denise Sheehan said.

Denise Sheehan might just be one voice, but she represents many of the hardworking staff members within Las Cruces Public Schools in her capacity as the president of the National Education Association for Las Cruces. Nearly 1,700 staff members responded to a recent NEA Las Cruces survey, which found that 48 percent of respondents reported underlying health conditions.

“We were able to find out that a lot of our teachers are not self-reporting their risks due to fear of losing their job or, you know, damaging their relationship with their administrator,” Sheehan said. “That is very alarming, right, because then we know that we have a majority of our teachers going back to the classrooms who do have some type of health risk or lives with someone who has a health risk.”

Superintendent Karen Trujillo recently spoke to KRWG about the steps the district is taking to protect not only students but teachers as well.

“It just goes back to following the social distancing, faced coverings, making sure that we're making those accommodations and modifications,” Trujillo said. “Our human resources department has two specialists that right now, that is what they are doing, meeting with employees on an individual basis, checking to make sure that the documentation is in place and that they qualify for an alternate work assignment. There should not be any level of fear, because we haven't, you know, we're not firing anybody…that's illegal. Like we can't do that. Like our job, and our role, and our guidance and our commitment to our employees, is to figure out how best to serve them in a safe environment.”

NEA Las Cruces said Trujillo welcomed the survey, and that they were in communication with the district throughout the process.

One of the findings the NEA highlighted was that close to 1,000 teachers indicated their wish for the entire fall semester to be online, with a transition to the hybrid model in January. 

As per state guidelines, the New Mexico public education system will remain online through at least Labor Day.

This comes after Las Cruces Public Schools already made the decision to keep students online for the foreseeable future, while the district further accesses the safety of implementing their hybrid model. 

For teachers like Kellie Dinsmore, the risk is simply too high to entertain even the thought of going back. As a special education teacher, Dinsmore recently told KRWG there is no way for her to do her job successfully while maintaining the required social distance.

“I just can't do my job from six feet away, because I am helping students with eating and helping them with transition, and ambulation, which is walking you know with walkers and sometimes with gait belts,” Dinsmore said.

Instead, Dinsmore is choosing retirement.  She said one of the largest factors that led to her decision was the increased potential exposure to COVID that comes from helping children use the restroom.

After a talk with her doctor she felt it irresponsible to return to the classroom.

“He straight up told me that if I was wearing a mask,” Dinsmore said. “It wouldn’t protect me from, you know, airborne, not from, like, stuff in bodily fluids. So, I just thought, you know what, I'm just gonna sit this out, because I have to take care of my family.”

It’s a choice educators across the country are facing as they work to take care of their families and their students.

Yet, NEA Las Cruces President Denise Sheehan emphasized teachers remain passionate about their profession, and that they want a return to normalcy as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“I think the very most important thing that the public needs to know is that our educators are eager to go back to the classroom.” Sheehan said. “They cannot wait to see students face to face. But yes, they're humans too, they have families, too. And their health is also important.”