Education Lawsuit Against State of New Mexico Seeks Justice for New Mexico’s School Children

Education is the single most important investment that New Mexico can make in its health, strength, and prosperity. Yet, year after year, our state ranks at the bottom nationally in educational achievement and legislative efforts fail to resolve this crisis. We need immediate and decisive action to turn New Mexico’s schools from a symptom into a solution.

A group of New Mexico families and school districts, represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center), is suing the State of New Mexico for its failure to meet its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide all public school students the programming and supports necessary to succeed.

The school districts include Gallup, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are English language learners (ELL), Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

The lawsuit, Yazzie vs. State of New Mexico, goes to trial in First Judicial District Court on June 12, 2017. The trial is expected to last approximately nine weeks. It calls for the court to order the State to provide the programming and resources necessary for all public school students to succeed as well as ensure that funds are distributed equitably, including for economically disadvantaged and English language learner students.

Family Profiles

The Yazzie Family
Wilhelmina Yazzie and her 14-year-old son Xavier, who are both Navajo, live in Gallup with Wilhelmina’s partner and their one-year-old baby.
Wilhelmina is very concerned that her son doesn’t have the academic supports he needs to prepare for college. Although Xavier likes school and gets good grades, he struggles in his eighth-grade classes at his middle school and isn’t scoring at grade level on standardized tests. This gap between Xavier’s good grades and less than proficient test scores is of particular concern.

While Wilhelmina is committed to helping her son succeed in school and is happy to help him with homework, she knows he would greatly benefit from school programming designed for his culturally related academic needs.

For example, like many of his classmates, Xavier practices both English and Navajo at home. He struggles in writing and reading, but unfortunately the district lacks an adequate bilingual and English-language learner program. Also, he does not benefit from after school programs that would help him in specific areas in which he struggles with his schoolwork.
Wilhelmina believes Xavier’s classes are taught by inexperienced teachers. She observes that he needs more seasoned educators and college preparatory and advanced classes that would challenge and prepare him for higher education.

In addition to not offering him programming that would help him learn and thrive, Xavier’s school lacks adequate materials. His school does not always utilize up-to-date technology and he is not allowed to bring home textbooks and other class supplies.

Wilhelmina wants the best for her son, and recognizes that there is only so much the District can do with the resources it has. Xavier’s school desperately needs better supports and resources, such as improved teacher training and retention and language programming, to more effectively serve the students who make up New Mexico’s uniquely diverse student population.

The Leno Family
Marsha Leno and her husband Ryan live within the Laguna-Acoma reservation with their five children, four of whom are enrolled in Cibola-Grants County Schools.

As tribal members of Zia Pueblo, Marsha’s children need an education that is sensitive to their traditions, tribal affiliation, and cultural needs. But the public middle and elementary schools her children attend lack the culturally relevant curriculum that would help her children thrive. Having a teacher that understands their culture is critical to their educational success, but unfortunately Native American teachers are scarce at each of the children’s schools. Although Marsha feels the teachers are generally good, they don’t understand the unique Pueblo traditions and are unable to make learning culturally relevant to her children.

Like many families in the district, Marsha and the children speak both Keres and English at home. Her children have struggled in English Language Arts and other courses that require writing. Unfortunately, the district lacks an adequate bilingual and English-language learner program for Native American students.

The schools also lack the critical supplies students need in order to learn. There aren’t enough textbooks to go around, so children are unable to bring textbooks home and are forced to share among classmates. As an inadequate substitute, they are given worksheets that don’t contain all the information they need to complete their homework.

Moreover, because of a lack of transportation services, her children can’t access certain educational programs and services outside of school hours, including before and after-school tutoring, because school buses are not regularly made available for that purpose.

Marsha has expressed concern about these problems to her children’s school administrators. She has been told, however, that the District lacks adequate funding from the state to fully address these issues.

The Sanabria Family 
Gloria Sanabria lives in Anthony with her husband Julio Delgado and their three children, Julio Jr., Daniel, and Veronica Delgado who are 12, 11, and 9-years old respectively. Gloria works as a homecare giver, and Julio, is a rancher and caretaker of horses. Their children go to Berino Elementary School in the Gadsden Independent School District.

Gloria’s children don’t have the help they need to succeed in school, because their school district lacks resources. Gloria and Julio are very involved in their children’s education, but they can’t fill the schools’ gaps on their own.

At home, Gloria’s family speaks both Spanish and English, and her children are in bilingual education programs. Julio Jr. and Daniel both still have trouble with academic work in English. Gloria has tried to get tutoring for their sons in math and reading, but their school has not been able to provide any. She also asked about academic summer programs for them, but none were available.

Julio Jr. has been diagnosed with ADHD. Gloria is extremely concerned about his behavior and his teachers’ negative reaction to him. Gloria has asked the school principal about in-school counseling services for his condition. None has ever been provided.

Gloria’s daughter Veronica has Microcephaly, a birth defect causing an infant’s head to be smaller than expected. Gloria tried to get Veronica tested for special education services since she was in kindergarten. It took more than three years for the school to finally test and place her in the program that Veronica needs to learn.

Gloria’s children have not received the support they need in school. She worries that her daughter, after years of not being properly supported, will never be able to catch up. She worries her sons are being shortchanged the education that would help them succeed.


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