Our governor and legislators have widely discussed the need to get the COVID-19 vaccine to New Mexicans and get our students back in the classroom.

The chamber has heard from teachers in Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other areas of the state that they need the vaccine to resume classroom learning at all grades. I cannot count how many times I have received a phone call from concerned teachers, students, parents and mental health professionals, saying we need to kids back in school buildings for in-person learning.

The decision by the Department of Health to not allow the vaccination of educators has left many teachers devastated, so the Department of Health should reverse course and allow for vaccinations immediately.

Students’ education and mental health are suffering by not being in the classroom.

According to tracktherecovery.org, which is a website produced by Harvard, Brown and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, student participation for math in New Mexico has decreased by 40.7 percent since the start of the pandemic. Sandoval County is performing very well and has increased participation by 28.5 percent, whereas Bernalillo County has seen a decrease of 35.7 percent.

Other areas of the state with large decreases in math participation rate is San Juan County (down 77.6 percent), Santa Fe County (down 60.6 percent), Dona Ana County (down 90.7 percent), and there are many more that have seen a decrease of over 90 percent.

Sandoval County, which is performing better than most of the state, had developed a plan to get over 1,800 educators vaccinated. This plan took considerable time and effort to develop and was scheduled for Jan. 22 and 23.

Sandoval County leadership, hospitals, school districts, charter schools and mental health professionals have expressed the importance of delivering a top tier in school education plan. Our community is about leadership and innovation, and this is why so many people are relocating to Sandoval County.

Offering the vaccine to educators in other parts of the state has been successful. Why should Sandoval County be singled out for taking care of its educators and its students?

The Department of Health should not have rejected a community plan based on the health of our community and the betterment of our students. Students are suffering by a loss of educational opportunities, potential scholarships, mental health due to isolation and athletics.

Cabinet Secretary-designate Tracie Collins needs to reverse course and allow our educators in the community to get the vaccine now, so our students can return to the classroom. Thank you to State Sen. Craig Brandt for his support in requesting that the vaccine plan be reinstated for our teachers.

We are appealing to our governor, legislators, local leaders and our community to support our educators in getting this vaccine to bring our students back to the classroom.

The Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce supports businesses in Rio Rancho and surrounding areas.