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NEW MEXICO COURT ORDERS STUDENT ACCESS TO COMPUTERS AND HIGH-SPEED INTERNET

May 21, 2021

The State of New Mexico has been ordered to determine the need for computer devices and high-speed internet and provide “at-risk” students with access to those resources, along with sufficient funding for qualified IT staff, support, maintenance and teacher training.

The first-in-the-nation order was issued by Judge Matthew Wilson on April 30 in the ongoing proceedings in Martinez v. State and Yazzie v. State, two consolidated lawsuits that challenged the adequacy of school funding for Native American students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

“Lack of access to devices and internet during this pandemic has been devastating for New Mexico’s students, particularly for students residing in the tribal communities and rural areas,” said Preston Sanchez, a lawyer for the ACLU of New Mexico, co-counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “We are gratified that the Court is holding the State accountable for ensuring students can access an adequate education during the pandemic and beyond.”

In 2018, after a lengthy trial, the District Court concluded that the State violated the New Mexico Constitution by not providing a uniform and sufficient system of education for all school-aged children. Among the essential resources identified by the court as lacking were “computers and related infrastructure.”

To remedy the constitutional violation, the court ordered the State to immediately provide the resources necessary to ensure all at-risk students receive an education that “gives them the opportunity to be ready to pursue college or a career after graduation.” The court further ruled that the State “may not conserve financial resources at the expense of its duties under the New Mexico Constitution,” and retained jurisdiction to ensure compliance with its ruling.

In June 2020, the court declined to end its jurisdiction over the case, finding the State had not yet done enough to provide an adequate education for New Mexico’s vulnerable student populations.

In December 2020, the Yazzie plaintiffs applied to the court for further relief to address the State’s failure to provide all at-risk public school students – especially in rural districts serving predominantly Native American children – with the technology necessary for a constitutionally adequate education through remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs noted that an estimated 23 percent of New Mexico’s population lacks broadband internet service, and broadband capacity does not exist at all in significant parts of the state. Moreover, an estimated 80 percent of Native Americans residing on tribal lands do not have internet services.

The plaintiffs also presented district-specific evidence of lack of devices and internet access. For example, in the Cuba Independent School District (CISD), 71% of all students are Native American, over 34% are English learners, over 96% of Cuba students are low-income, and about 19% are students with disabilities. A majority of students, families, teachers and administrators do not have Internet in their homes or access to broadband internet, and about 85% of all CISD students do not have broadband access. Additionally, CISD’s superintendent attested that 40% of students will continue to learn remotely during the 2021-22 school year.

At a hearing on April 30, 2021, Judge Wilson found that students without access to high-speed internet and technology for remote learning “are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready.” He granted the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion in full, ordering the State to immediately ensure devices, access to high-speed internet, and adequate IT staff, training, support and maintenance.

The Yazzie plaintiffs are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the ACLU of New Mexico. The Martinez plaintiffs are represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Munger Tolles law firm pro bono.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is a member of the Partnership for Equity & Education Rights (PEER), convened by Education Law Center. PEER is a national network of organizations fighting for school funding reform in their states.


Related Story:

NEW MEXICO SCHOOL FUNDING FOUND UNCONSTITUTIONAL 


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24