In the last few years, many public school boards decided to remove lockers from campuses. The major result, if you ask students, is that they now lug around a staggering pile of books. Last week, the Las Cruces school board — all elected members — dumped a heavier weight on our children: 40 school days from now, our kids’ longed-for relief of summer vacation will be shorter than they expected. And this after two terrible years of masks, Zoom and lockdown. Less than a year ago, the same school board claimed this very plan — essentially a bribe from Santa Fe to go to ‘year-round schooling’ — would not address the root issues that our district was facing, overwhelmed teachers and overflowing classes. This week, though, they’ve sold out and will toe the line for a handout. I have gotten a half-dozen emails daily about our daughter’s progress in school, but there was woefully little notice or much chance for public input in the decision this time around. There was a questionnaire that circulated last year, but those results have not been made available. With this last-minute notice, family vacations, weddings, camping trips, or visits to grandmother are all on the chopping block. While the board claims that input from the community was welcome, most people only heard about this decision after the fact. Due diligence did not occur. Our children need to recover academically and emotionally from COVID. The evidence is not conclusive that year-round school will help kids academically, and no evidence that this is the best thing to help them emotionally. The board should have spent time with the stakeholders and with peer-reviewed research — we would like to see what research they have. For some, this new schedule might be useful, and it’s already offered at a few Las Cruces schools. If demand warrants it, start by offering it at some traditional high schools — but why implement this in every school on short notice? Why not give families more than two months to prepare? Most importantly, why is this the only way we can get more money from the governor? Why not allow some local control of state education funding? Taxpayers have been told that this bus has already left the station. The board provides no information about what enrichment programs would be added to the school system. This extra money could be spent deepening already existing programs and after-school initiatives for families who need it, without changing the calendar. Under year-round schooling, when will teens find employment or enroll in external summer programs? This new schedule seems to limit, rather than expand, development possibilities outside of school. Also, a targeted response to the real problems our students face might include hiring more social workers and counselors. Mental health issues have increased at least 30 to 40% among teens during COVID. Last year, there was one therapist available for a couple days a week on campus for the 2000-plus students at Las Cruces High School. If we weren’t being held hostage by Santa Fe to toe the line, we could use state funds to pay our courageous teachers a competitive salary. Since COVID, they have also taken on the roles of therapist, social worker and healthcare professional. Why don’t we add enrichment activities to the school routine to immerse our students in their passions, excite them about learning, to not only give them a sense of control over their own lives, but a new energy and hope for the future? Instead, the school board dumped more weight into our kids’ already overstuffed backpacks.
Rus Bradburd has directed ‘Basketball in the Barrio’ for 30 years. His most recent book is ‘All the Dreams We’ve Dreamed: a Story of Hoops and Handguns on Chicago’s West Side.’