San Juan County school districts lift mask requirements for students and staff

Noel Lyn Smith Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield school districts have joined other districts across New Mexico in dropping mask requirements for students and staff.

The decision by district officials came a few hours after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ended the state's mask mandate for majority of indoor public spaces on Feb. 17. The order had been implemented by state officials to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

In the governor's announcement, she left the choice of setting policies for masks to local education leaders.

Officials at Farmington Municipal Schools decided to make mask wearing an option for students and staff, effective immediately.

"This change also applies to after-school events and sports activities. FMS would like to ask our community to remain respectful of students' and staff's choices with regards to wearing a mask," the district posted on its website.

NM mask mandate:New Mexico drops indoor mask mandate effective immediately

At the Aztec Municipal School District, officials said they will follow any mandates issued by San Juan County or the city of Aztec.

Since neither entity has issued mandates at this time, officials said they are giving students and staff the choice of whether to wear masks while at school.

"We recognize that many families want to continue to have their children wear masks and students are welcome to do so. We ask that you continue to supply masks to your student as well as provide guidance/direction to your child to wear their mask," officials said in a statement.

The Aztec Municipal School District posted this image on its website about changes to using masks in schools on Feb. 17.

The Bloomfield School District will no longer require masks for students, staff and visitors starting on Feb. 18.

"They will have the option to wear a mask, if they so choose, and we will respect each individual's decision to wear or not wear a mask," district officials said.

Mask requirements vary at the Central Consolidated School District.

CCSD spokesperson Jerrod Noble said masks are not mandatory at schools in Kirtland and when attending sporting events there.

However, masks are necessary at schools and related school activities, including sports, in Shiprock, Naschitti, Newcomb and Ojo Amarillo.

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Since these communities are part of the Navajo Nation, CCSD is complying with the tribal government's mask mandate, Noble said.

Tribal President Jonathan Nez reiterated in a tweet on Feb. 17 that the tribe's mask mandate reminds in place.

"Navajo Nation's face mask mandate remains in effect in all public places within the Navajo Nation, in accordance with Public Health Emergency Order No. 2020-007," he wrote.

Sports roll back mask requirements 

Athletic directors from several high schools in the county confirmed that mask requirements have been lifted for athletes and spectators.

Bloomfield athletic director Ben Tensay and Aztec High School athletic director Bryan Sanders both confirmed that masks are no longer required for sporting events, including basketball games, as of Feb. 17.

Rainy Crisp, athletic director and girls' basketball coach at Navajo Preparatory School, confirmed that masks would still be required for basketball games played at the Prep campus in Farmington.

During the district basketball game between Farmington High School and Piedra Vista High School on Feb. 17, fans were seen without masks and with masks while seated throughout Piedra Vista's Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse.

Several waiting in line at concession stands opted to wear masks because they were in close proximity to each other.

Inside the Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse at Piedra Vista High School, a section of fans with and without masks watch the regular season finale between Piedra Vista and Farmington high schools' girls basketball teams on Feb. 17.

New Mexico Activities Association Executive Director Sally Marquez confirmed that the organization will honor each school district's handling of mask requirements.

The state wrestling tournament begins on Feb. 18 at the Rio Rancho Event Center, while the state swimming tournament wraps up on Feb. 19 at Albuquerque Academy.

"We have reached out to Albuquerque Academy and the Rio Rancho Event Center and the city of Rio Rancho, and the mask mandates for state swimming and wrestling have been lifted," Marquez said in a video released by the NMAA.

Marquez explained that ticket limitations for the final day of the state swimming championships, which restricted only two fans in attendance per participating athlete, would still be in place.

"We've lifted the mask mandate and we've lifted (restrictions) on overnight travel, however COVID is still active, and we need to make sure that we're safe," Marquez said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, announces the end to her state's indoor mask mandate while Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, right, removes his mask on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Santa Fe.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

Steve Bortstein covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-635-2680, by email at sbortstein@gannett.com or Twitter @DTSBortstein.

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