TUES: Santa Fe Schools Ends In-Person Learning, Athletes Petition Governor To Play, + More

Nov 10, 2020

Santa Fe Schools End In-Person Learning Experiment - By Cedar Attanasio Associated Press / Report For America, Santa Fe New Mexican

After three weeks of trying to make in-person learning work, Santa Fe Public Schools are calling it quits.

With the city posting its own record numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospital beds filling up, Superintendent Veronica García says it is time to pump the brakes.

Around 200 elementary school students had been allowed in-person learning thanks to 58 school teachers and other staff who volunteered to teach. Starting Nov. 20, the district will return to remote-only classes.

The announcement comes as the state sets records for COVID-19 cases amid dwindling space in hospitals, school districts are suing the state over the coronavirus health order, and students are failing classes at much higher rates.

Half of Santa Fe's public high and middle school students had at least one failing grade, with rates at more than 60% for freshmen and sophomores and close to 40% among middle-school students.

Around the state, the percentage is as high as 80%.

The problem also affects younger kids. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the number of Santa Fe Public School students in grades 3 through 12 failing at least one class has increased 15% over last year, according to the.

New Mexico College Athletes Issue Plea To Practice, PlayAssociated Press

Athletes from five New Mexico universities are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for more flexibility that would allow them to hold full practices and play like their counterparts at most colleges in other states.

They issued their formal plea to the Democratic governor in a letter sent Monday, as the state marked another daily high for confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The letter says positivity rates in the community are not indicative of the caseloads being seen among athletes. They say that shows they've been adhering to safe protocols.

The governor is expected this week to impose tougher public health mandates.

The state only allows college sports teams to hold practice, compete or travel if the universities are in counties with a 14-day average daily case count of less than eight per 100,000 and a test positivity rate under 5%.

None meet the requirements right now and state officials said Tuesday that while athletes want to get back to the field, court or track, public health needs to be the top priority.

State health officials on Tuesday reported an additional 1,266 COVID-19 cases, bringing the statewide total to nearly 57,550 since the pandemic began.

Another 14 deaths also were reported, bringing that tally to 1,144. More than 420 people remained hospitalized.

Navajo Nation Reports 70 New COVID-19 Cases And 1 More DeathAssociated Press

Navajo Nation health officials have reported 70 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

The latest figures released Monday night bring the total number of known cases to 12,641 with 594 known deaths. Tribal health officials say 132,720 people have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,795 have recovered.

The Navajo Nation Department of Health previously issued a health advisory warning to residents about the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus that has affected 29 communities throughout the reservation, which spans more than 27,000 square miles in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Officials have urged residents to wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit gatherings to less than five people.

A daily curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. also remains in effect on the Navajo Nation.

Election Revives Recreational Pot Initiatives In New Mexico - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

State legislators are rekindling efforts to open New Mexico to recreational marijuana production and sales, with an emphasis on economic opportunity amidst the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic.

State Rep. Javier Martinez told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that he will again introduce legislation to regulate and tax recreational marijuana, hewing closely to a proposal that won House approval earlier this year and died in the Senate without a floor vote.

Elections this year ousted several conservative-leaning Democratic Senators who opposed past legalization efforts.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week reiterated her support for recreational marijuana as an opportunity to expand and diversify the economy.

Across the country, public support for marijuana reforms was on prominent display in the Nov. 3 election as four states — New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and neighboring Arizona — approved ballot measures to open up recreational cannabis markets. Mississippi approved the creation of a medical marijuana program.

New Mexico doesn't initiate legislation by ballot measures, though constitutional amendments are approved by referendum.

Martinez said his new bill will aim to safeguard the state's 13-year-old medical marijuana program from disruptions, levying taxes of up to 20% on sales and create business opportunities for minority and low-income communities adversely affected by the drug war and criminalization of marijuana. The bill has not yet been published.

Police Say Man Livestreamed Part Of Fatal New Mexico ShootingAssociated Press

Authorities in New Mexico have arrested a man after police say he fatally shot two people and streamed part of the assault on Facebook.

New Mexico State Police said in a statement Monday that 23-year-old Alejandro Alirez of Las Vegas was arrested Sunday on multiple charges including first-degree murder.

Police said his 33-year-old girlfriend Cristal Cervantes and her 89-year-old grandfather Victor Cervantes died at the scene. San Miguel County Sheriff's deputies originally responded after being called by Alirez's mother.

Alirez allegedly told officers he believed he was being molested in his sleep. Online court records didn't list an attorney for Alirez who could comment on his behalf.

New Mexico Hospitals Seeing Strain As COVID-19 Cases Climb - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

Top medical officers for some of New Mexico's largest hospital systems say they are now at or above normal capacity as the coronavirus pandemic surges across the state.

They briefed reporters Monday, saying they're seeing the strain on staff and they won't be able to sustain the pace over the long term.

New Mexico reported another 1,418 confirmed infections Monday, smashing the previous record of 1,287 that was set Friday and Saturday. There have been a total of 56,289 COVID-19 cases in the state since the pandemic began.

There were also 12 additional deaths, bringing that total to 1,130.

A Bernalillo County man in his 30s was among the 14 additional deaths reported Sunday.

Presbyterian Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jason Mitchell says the hospitals are operating under contingency plans. He's among those pleading with people to stay home to curb the spread of the virus.

More than 1,200 additional cases have been reported in each of the last three days as hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise.

The hospital officials urged people to avoid gatherings and to think twice about hosting holiday events.

Despite having some of the toughest public health restrictions since the pandemic started, New Mexico has been struggling with exponential increases over the past month.

The seven-day rolling average for positivity stands at more than 9% and the total number of cases for the state is close to topping 55,000, with more than 14% of those being reported in just the last week.

Contractor Sues Over Work At US Nuclear Waste Repository - Associated Press

A contracting company is suing the manager of the U.S. government's nuclear waste dump. 

Critical Applications Alliance alleges in a federal lawsuit that Nuclear Waste Partnership breached its contract to rebuild the repository's air system. 

The contractor was hired in 2018 to build the ventilation system at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for $135 million, but the contract was terminated in August. 

The lawsuit argues that the project as troubled from the start, suffering from delays and frequent design changes resulting from Nuclear Waste Partnership's in-experience in major construction projects. 

Nuclear Waste Partnership declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Navajo Nation Reports 124 Additional Virus Cases, 2 DeathsAssociated Press

Health officials have reported 124 additional coronavirus cases and two additional deaths from the virus for the Navajo Nation as of Sunday.

In all, the tribe has reported more than 12,000 known cases and 593 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.

The tribe imposed a weekend curfew that ended early Monday due to the uncontrolled spread of the virus in 29 of its communities that has affected 29 communities throughout the reservation, which spans more than 27,000 square miles in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

The spread in certain communities has been attributed largely to family gatherings and residents traveling off tribal lands.

Indigenous Candidates' Wins In Congress Give Hope For Change - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Internet access, healthcare and basic necessities like running water and electricity within Indigenous communities have long been at the center of congressional debates. But until recently, Congress hasn't had many Indigenous members who were pushing for solutions and funding for those issues. 

Hope is growing after the Native delegation in the U.S. House expanded by two on Election Day. 

Wins by Cherokee member Yvette Herrell in New Mexico and Native Hawaiian Kai Kahele in Hawaii brought the number in Congress to six. 

They will join 4 Native Americans who won reelection: Reps. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who's Laguna; Sharice Davids of Kansas, who's Ho-Chunk; Mark-Wayne Mullin of Oklahoma, who's Cherokee; and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who's Chickasaw. 

Of the six who prevailed, half are Democrats and half Republican — a divide Cole said would "absolutely be indispensable in passing anything the next two years." The winners were among a dozen Indigenous major-party candidates running in top-of-the-ticket races. 

Representation means progress, scholars say, particularly for Indigenous children who will see their language and culture on display in Congress. It's fueled by efforts to recruit Indigenous candidates and back them financially, get-out-the-vote efforts and Native communities flexing their political muscle. 

Still, Indigenous people remain underrepresented in Congress. The U.S. Senate has not had a Native American member since Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado retired in 2005. He has Northern Cheyenne heritage. Democrat Paulette Jordan, who is Coeur d'Alene, lost to the incumbent for a U.S. Senate seat in Idaho this year.

Search Warrants Served On Navajo Nation Amid Hemp Crackdown – Associated Press

A team of federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement officers on Monday served search warrants on the Navajo Nation near Shiprock, where the tribe has been cracking down on illegal hemp farm operations.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the warrants were sealed and he could not provide any details. He said only that the warrants stemmed from an ongoing investigation.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez tweeted Monday that tribal police were assisting in a multiagency operation and that there was no threat to the community. He said more information would be released later.

In October, more than a dozen people were arrested on drug charges at a motel in the area. Authorities alleged the suspects were trimming marijuana plants in multiple motel rooms as marijuana was being stored in other rooms. Investigators were trying to determine whether the suspects were tied to the hemp operations.

The Navajo Nation just weeks ago sued nearly three dozen people, accusing them of illegally growing hemp or marijuana on the reservation. The lawsuit claims that the operations are contaminating the tribe's water, land and other natural resources. It was the second such lawsuit the tribe's Department of Justice has filed this year.

The tribe does not have a regulatory system for industrial hemp on the vast reservation that spans parts of Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

County Elects New Mexico's First Black District AttorneyLas Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Officials say voters in Doña Ana County have elected the first Black district attorney in New Mexico after he ran unopposed.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that 62-year-old Gerald Byers said he believes people will be able to work together toward the elusive goal of total justice.

Henry Valdez, director of the administrative office of district attorneys, has said he isn't aware of any other African Americans in the state who have held the office.

Byers said he began his career at the Bernalillo County district attorney's office while in school through a program that allowed third-year law students to prosecute cases under the supervision of a prosecutor.