Some New Mexico kids just can’t get a break when it comes to getting an education.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in many public school districts’ ability to comply with the 2018 Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico landmark education reform lawsuit ruling that found the state guilty of not being able to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. Two years later the court is being asked to make state education leaders comply—and pronto.
Back in 2014 under the then-infamous Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration, Wilhelmina Yazzie filed a lawsuit saying that the state had not fulfilled its duty to provide equally to each underserved public school student a college- and career-ready education. “Underserved” can mean those in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, Native American students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities and English language learners.
A district court judge ruled in 2018 for the state to take immediate steps to get it together and provide an equitable public education for all students. But it’s not like the current Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has been a friend to Yazzie either. Education advocates say her administration has worked harder to dismiss the lawsuit rather than to comply. Doesn’t look good when the Anne E. Casey Foundation has ranked New Mexico last in the country in child well-being.
Last week the state had to be nudged again to step up and comply with the judge's order by providing computers and high-speed internet access to thousands of at-risk students who don’t have the Zoom tools needed for remote learning. In the 2018 ruling, the judge made note that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education. Even more true since students have had to Zoom learn.
Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said the lack of access has been catastrophic for too many New Mexican families due to the state’s failure to address the technology gaps. A loose estimate shows that about 23 percent of the New Mexico population in general lacks broadband internet service. Some rural school districts such as Cuba have 70 percent of their students without proper technology tools. We bet there are way too many bright students caught in this gap who are struggling to learn at home.
The Yazzie plaintiffs say the state should have worked on complying with the 2018 order instead of trying to find ways to get out of it. Plaintiffs are now asking for an immediate and swift decision and relief in order to mitigate the damage being done to underserved students forced to home school. The motion’s data shows a staggering number of at-risk students without proper technology. The expedited relief asks for state educators to quickly identify all at-risk students and their teachers who do not have dedicated devices or sufficient internet access and to provide support, training and ongoing funding. The case is being heard in First Judicial District Court, and according to the docket, there is not a hearing scheduled until June 29. Let’s hope the new judge on the case calls a special hearing ASAP so our students can get the help they need. In the meantime, check out all the information at nmpovertylaw.org.
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