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NMMI regents approve online classes only

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Lisa Dunlap NMMI will decide how to coordinate virtual graduation ceremonies in the coming days, Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, NMMI president and superintendent, told regents during a Wednesday teleconference. He is seen during an October 2019 meeting.

The New Mexico Military Institute Board of Regents has voted to suspend on-campus classes for the rest of the semester, utilizing online or remote instruction only, due to the COVID-19 situation.

The decision was made by an unanimous vote of the four regents participating in the Wednesday morning teleconference, even as Chair Col. Tim Paul gave his view that the country is prepared to handle the current situation.

“While there are some grave concerns, I think many of us who have served in the military — and specifically in the Homeland defense, NORCOM (U.S. North American Command) and National Guard arena — know we certainly have a lot of capability when facing a serious pandemic or other threats,” Paul said. “Certainly I think this is a time for calm and reflection and, to Dean (Douglas) Murray’s point, perhaps to do a little math and consider the statistics, not only the statistics you see on the news, but the statistics the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is putting out. I don’t think we are facing an existential threat.”

Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, president and superintendent of NMMI, made the recommendation to regents, saying they followed frequent contacts with Gov. Michell Lujan Grisham’s office and the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

In a letter issued after the meeting, he indicated that only 43 cadets remain on campus. They are international students who stayed at NMMI after the school declared an extended spring break of three weeks to run from March16 until April 6. That break came after an executive order from the state that closed all public schools until early April. Rather than risk being caught in a travel ban that would not allow them to return to campus, some international students remained in the NMMI dorms.

Grizzle said efforts will be made to help them return home or find a host family to house them. If no such arrangements can be made, the cadets will remain on campus.

Grizzle said several factors led to the decision about moving entirely to online classes.

One was the “stay at home” state executive order issued Monday that expanded on earlier orders by further limiting gatherings of people to five or fewer, requiring “non-essential” employees of all organizations and businesses to work from home, and reinforcing the social distancing rule requiring at least six feet between people.

Another was that NMMI previously had provided cadets and faculty with laptops loaded with the same online learning software platform. Grizzle said that online instruction began Monday and that they had indications that it was going well, including that alerts sent to parents about cadets not attending classes resulted in increased participation.

A third reason Grizzle gave for the recommendation was that, if cadets returned April 6, a four-day Easter break was scheduled to occur, and then only four more weeks of classes would remain until the end of the semester on May 7.

He added that efforts would be made to arrange for virtual graduation ceremonies and that NMMI would continue to keep its regents, faculty, staff, cadets and parents informed of any other changes or developments that might occur.

“There are things we haven’t encountered yet that will pop up. We will deal with them in our hopefully professional, methodical yet efficient, quick way and get answers out to the parents,” Grizzle said.

Other colleges and universities nationwide have made similar decisions about disbanding school for the remainder of the academic year, and some states have ordered the closures of public K-12 schools through the end of the current term.

The president of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell said the school is re-evaluating how to offer needed personal instruction in light of current executive orders. After the public school closure order, it also instituted an extended spring break utilizing online classes for most instruction.

“With the current guidance from the governor and Secretary of Health on limiting gathering to five people, we are reworking our plans on the classes we offer that require hands on skills training,” said Dr. Shawn Powell.

He said ENMU-R will keep people posted on updates, including by a scheduled Facebook Live event at 9 a.m. Friday.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.