NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Following the deadly Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, New Mexico’s education leaders are reminding school districts across the state to “tap into available funds” for mental health support services, while also upgrading school safety plans. The message Tuesday comes from the Public Education Department, which says federal relief funds “could be used to improve services for students and staff.”

According to the PED, New Mexico and other states received nearly $1.4 billion in “Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief” (ESSER) funds through various pandemic relief spending bills. Of those funds, the state has approved several spending proposals related to “social-emotion learning and mental health initiatives.”

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Online, a dashboard suggests at least 49% of New Mexico’s ESSER funds remain unused as of late April 2022. According to the state, those funds set out to “support the nation’s schools in safely reopening and sustaining safe operations of schools while meeting the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The state is recommending school leaders “consider legitimate ways to use those funds” to improve building safety. The PED has previously approved spending projects to address lighting, install fencing, security doors, surveillance cameras or school communication systems and technology.

In a news release, the PED’s Behavioral Health Coordinator Leslie Kelly said, in part, “We have an enormous responsibility to every New Mexican to make sure that any student can attend any school in New Mexico and feel a sense of belonging, safety, connectedness and that their identities are affirmed.”

According to the PED, state law dictates every New Mexico school must have a site-specific Safe School Plan, including procedures for responding to emergencies like crime and violence, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and accidents.