Home News COVID-19 Situation NMMI president, governor say COVID-safe practices in place

NMMI president, governor say COVID-safe practices in place

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Lisa Dunlap Photo The New Mexico Military Institute has detailed its COVID prevention practices and its prior discussions with state officials in a letter to the Higher Education Department.

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School responds to letter from state Higher Education Department

New Mexico Military Institute is complying with COVID-safe practices, according to both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the school’s president and superintendent.

NMMI received a letter on Sept. 3 from Ricky Serna and Stephanie Rodriquez with the New Mexico Higher Education Department notifying the military high school and junior college in Roswell of what it called violations of public health orders and executive orders.

“Your actions not only directly violate state law and undermine the rule of law, but directly imperils the health and safety of your students, faculty and staff,” the letter stated.

But Maj. Gen. Jerry Grizzle, the president and superintendent of the military school, responded to HED with a six-page letter Thursday that refutes an unsafe environment or policies that were not discussed with state officials.

The letter provides details on its safety measures; on NMMI’s many consultations, notifications and discussions with HED officials about its reopening plans prior to the return of cadets starting July 19; and school leaders’ frequent communications with New Mexico Department of Health officials over the past months.

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“These policies, and more, were promulgated with the supervision and guidance of NMMI Board of Regents in coordination with the faculty and staff of NMMI and with the assistance of HED and NMDOH personnel,” the letter states. “Few, if any, ROTC units in the nation have come close to plans as detailed as NMMI has in place.”

Grizzle said that HED has acknowledged receipt of the letter, which he said has been shared with NMMI faculty, cadets and regents.

He said he would refrain from further comment while the Higher Education Department reviews NMMI’s response.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was asked about higher education COVID-19 practices during her Thursday press conference, and she said that the state receives weekly reports for colleges and universities, news about positive test results, and updates on educational and campus plans.

“I am feeling really good about the coordination and effort by higher education, including — many people may not know — but we treat the New Mexico Military Institute, because it is a college preparatory learning environment, as part of our higher education effort and one of our partners,” she said. “And they have adopted all of our COVID-safe practices and rapid response and surveillance and making sure that if we have an issue or an infection that there is an immediate response to contain that outbreak.”

She said the state’s higher education institutions were all using hybrid learning models, with some in-person instruction as well as some distance learning, and had instituted “pretty effective COVID-safe practices” for living arrangements.

NMMI addresses HED questions

The Higher Education Department officials wrote to NMMI that they must comply with public health and executive orders and noted four specific areas that were considered violations: that high school students were already receiving in-person instruction, although the state had not approved of that until after Labor Day at the earliest; that all instruction was occurring face to face; that cadets were housed in double-occupancy rooms; and that indoor dining had not been limited to 25% occupancy of the enclosed space.

NMMI responded, in part, by noting that HED had acknowledged that colleges and universities could not operate under one uniform plan and that NMMI is a unique school, given its military training, 100% boarding of cadets and its governance structure.

In regard to face-to-face instruction, NMMI’s letter said that remote instruction is occurring for some courses and instructors. In addition, the school said in-person instruction is done with instructors and cadets wearing masks at all times and with the required 6 feet between people in a room whenever possible.

NMMI’s letter also indicated that about 40% of cadets are in single rooms, but those in double rooms have at least 6 feet between each other. Its indoor dining has been reduced to 40% capacity, the letter stated, with plexiglass barriers separating cadets who face each other at a table. “Grab and go” meals are also offered.

The letter indicates that high school and college students cannot be separated because of NMMI’s “integrated” academic and military training program. NMMI stated that HED officials heard NMMI officials explain that during an Aug. 4 video conference. The NMMI Board of Regents also approved the integrated approach, according to the NMMI letter.

In addition, the letter gives detailed information on other safety measures implemented, including that all cadets were tested for COVID-19 twice upon returning to Post, as the school refers to its campus; the isolation and quarantine practices in use; the closed campus environment; and the daily screening of all cadets, instructors and visitors with infrared cameras in some places and monitoring stations at high-traffic areas.

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