Yazzie/Martinez education lawsuit moves forward!

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson denied the State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the landmark Yazzie/Martinez ruling today, which found that the state was violating the public school students’ right to a sufficient education. The judge noted that the state, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students.

The judge stated, “The state cannot be deemed to have complied with this court’s order until it shows that the necessary programs and reforms are being provided to all at risk students to ensure that they have the opportunity to be college and career ready. There is a lack of evidence in this case that the defendants have substantially satisfied this court’s express orders regarding all at risk students. The court’s injunction requires comprehensive educational reform that demonstrates substantial improvement of student outcomes so that students are actually college and career ready.”

The judge continued, “The court agrees with the plaintiffs’ counsel that to dismiss this action now while implementation and compliance are merely in their initial stages would undermine the years of work by this court and the parties and leave the children of New Mexico in an educational system that may be below constitutional standards.”

The judge also stated that “the court will maintain jurisdiction in this case until defendants have actually overhauled the system and complied with the constitutional requirements.” 

In reaction to the decision today, Wilhelmina Yazzie, a plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit said “In our culture, children are sacred, and I’m overjoyed that the fight for their education will go on. Even before the pandemic, our schools were not getting what they needed. There weren’t enough books to go around then and now it’s even worse. Our teachers are doing all they can, but they can’t even reach all their students because so many families, especially those that live in rural areas, don’t have internet access. Unfortunately, we just can’t trust the state to do the right thing without the court intervening.” 

Yazzie continued, “It’s time for our leaders to be courageous and make real changes for our kids. All across the country, people are standing up against the inequities caused by hundreds of years of systemic racism. It’s time for our state to stop fighting the lawsuit and instead address the inequities in our schools.”

Judge Wilson approved a motion from the Martinez plaintiffs that allows time for discovery of evidence to investigate the state’s compliance with the court ruling.

Yazzie plaintiffs also asked the court at the hearing to order the state to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system. The judge decided not to order a plan now and will wait to entertain the motion until after discovery is completed and more information is available. 

In 2018, the court ordered the state to provide educational programs, services, and funding to schools to prepare students so they are college and career ready. In October 2019, the Yazzie Plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to order the state to develop a plan to come into compliance with the court’s ruling. In March 2020, the state filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

Almost two years have passed since the landmark court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case – low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.

In their motion for a compliance plan the Yazzie plaintiffs provided the court evidence that almost two years after the court’s ruling students still lack access to technology and culturally relevant materials; thousands of English language learners lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need these programs; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), or the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

“We are relieved that the case will continue. Education costs a lot more during a health crisis. We didn’t have the support we needed before COVID-19, but now we really are in crisis,” said Mike Hyatt, Superintendent of Gallup McKinley County Schools. “Without question, student learning in our district, which is predominantly Native American, and across New Mexico will suffer this coming year because the state is not funding school districts based on our needs.”

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argued that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argued that politics have failed our children for many years and the state continues to violate the law even after three legislative sessions since the landmark court ruling. 

At the recent special session, the legislature passed a budget that underfunds education overall and will force schools to choose between spending on necessary changes to keep kids safe and able to continue learning during the COVID-19 pandemic or basic things like instructional materials and adequate salaries for educators. The federal CARES Act money will not cover all the COVID-related costs such as protective equipment for staff and students, reconfiguring bathrooms, ensuring more teaching staff in school, and online instruction, yet the legislature wants it to also be used for basic education programs.

“The pandemic is compounding deep and ongoing educational inequities that are a direct result of decades of complacency by the state that continued even after the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney with ACLU-NM working in cooperation with New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty that represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. (Sanchez was formerly staff with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty when the litigation began). “Now more than ever, it’s important that the court continues to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families.”

A few days ago, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, released its annual report on child well being: New Mexico again ranks last.  

The Yazzie plaintiffs’ response brief with exhibits—including declarations in opposition to State of New Mexico’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Mescalero Apache Tribe, Navajo Nation’s Department of Dine Education, and Jicarilla Apache Nation (Exhibits A-D, pages 48-55)—can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The February 2019 final judgment and order in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Court oversight is essential to protecting students’ constitutional right to education, charge Yazzie plaintiffs

SANTA FE—The State of New Mexico, by its own admission, is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a sufficient education to all students and should be required to develop a comprehensive plan to overhaul the public education system as soon as possible, charged the Yazzie plaintiffs in a brief filed today with the First Judicial District Court. The brief argues that it is critical the court continue to hold the state accountable to the 2018 landmark court ruling that found the state was violating students’ rights. 

The brief was in response to the state’s motion, filed mid March, asking the court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. The Yazzie case was brought on behalf of families and six school districts. 

“In the best and worst of times, education is fundamental to our future. Now more than ever, with an uncertain economy and an upcoming special legislative session, we need the court to ensure the state is accountable to New Mexico’s students and families,” said Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs. “Almost two years have passed since the court ruling but very little has changed for students and families at the heart of the case–low-income families, students with disabilities, English language learners, and Native American students, who collectively make up roughly 80% of the New Mexico student population.”  

“The state’s lack of action has been laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis, which has further aggravated the deep and ongoing educational inequities across New Mexico,” continued Evans. “Our public education system still lacks the basic infrastructure necessary to provide equitable access to technology and reliable internet, much less culturally and linguistically appropriate instructional materials. The state needs to act now to transform our schools. It’s failure to do so has caused irreparable harm to students and the future of our state.”

In addition to the lack of technology access and culturally relevant materials, the brief provides evidence that thousands of English language learners still lack certified teachers; extended learning and summer school still is not available for all students who need them; more than 25,000 three- and four-year-olds still don’t have access to quality Pre-K; and the state still fails to fund or implement the Bilingual Multicultural Education Act (1973), the Indian Education Act (2003), and the Hispanic Education Act (2010).

The state’s motion to dismiss the case argues that the court should trust the state government, legislators, and the governor to fix the school system. Yazzie plaintiffs argue that politics have failed our children and trusting the state to follow its own laws has not worked in the last several decades or in the last two legislative sessions after the landmark court ruling. 

The Yazzie brief states, “Considering that the State has not fulfilled its duties before this Court intervened, it certainly cannot be left on its own to fulfill its duties now that the Court has found that the Constitutional rights are at stake. Rather than spending its time drafting long motions to dismiss for this Court, the State could have been developing a compliance plan for this Court.

There will be a hearing June 29 on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ and state’s motions.

The reply brief can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-response-states-mtd-with-exhibits-a-j-2020-05-01/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

State admits students lack a sufficient education in motion to dismiss Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE—In a motion asking the First Judicial District Court to dismiss the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit on Friday, the state acknowledged it continues to violate students’ right to a sufficient education. Legal counsel for the Yazzie plaintiff families pledge to continue litigation to hold the state accountable to comply with the court’s landmark ruling.  

The following can be attributed to Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit.

“The state knows it must make comprehensive changes to fix the education system for our students, but over a year and a half since the ruling, little to nothing has changed for the students at the heart of the case—low-income, English language learners, Native American, and students with disabilities, who account for about 80% of New Mexico’s student population. 

“In asking the judge to dismiss the case, the state does not argue that it has fixed our schools. The state simply can’t refute the stark fact that it has a very long way to go to provide our students with a sufficient education. Despite two legislative sessions since the court ruled, the state has not come close to adequately addressing long running problems. 

“We cannot expect that the political system will simply shift course and do right by our students. The court has to intervene when politics fail, and politics have clearly failed New Mexico’s children for decades. As long as the state does not provide children the educational opportunities they need, the Yazzie plaintiffs will continue to fight for our students.”

There will be a hearing on the Yazzie plaintiffs’ motion to hold the state in compliance with the court’s order and develop a plan on March 27 before Judge Matthew Wilson.

The Yazzie plaintiff’s reply brief in Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-plaintiffs-reply-compliance-motion-2020-01-31/

Reply brief exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-for-yazzie-reply-brief-2020-01-31/

A report by economist Steve Barro on public education funding trends in New Mexico can be found here:  http://nmpovertylaw.org/report-nm-edu-funding-trends-barro-2020-01-30/

The final ruling in the lawsuit can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/D-101-CV-2014-00793-Final-Judgment-and-Order-NCJ-1.pdf

Mobile home park residents fight illegal fines and eviction

Residents file class action lawsuit in Second Judicial Court

ALBUQUERQUE—Residents of Aztec Village, a mobile home park in Albuquerque, came together for fairness and dignity in their community today and sued the corporate landlord and manager of the park where their homes are located. The residents charge that Nodel Parks LLC—which owns mobile home parks throughout the country, including six in Albuquerque—and park manager Magdalena Vila illegally and arbitrarily fined them for alleged infractions of community rules and threatened them with eviction when they couldn’t pay. 

The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC  are represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and Parnall and Adams Law. The lawsuit was filed in Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque today.

“Really, the people who live here, we are like family,” said Marlena Martinez, a longtime Aztec Village resident who helped organize residents to fight the park’s unfair practices. “Over 100 families live here, and some of us have been here for over 40 years. It’s an understatement to say that we are invested in our community. Ever since management began unfairly fining us and forcing people out of the community, we have been fighting together for our homes, our financial stability, and to stay together.”

Nodel Parks changed management of Aztec Village in May of 2019 and soon began issuing fines for violations of what the manager said were community rules. However, many of the alleged violations residents were fined for, including disposing of leaves in community dumpsters and having child toys in the front yard, were not actual violations of Aztec Village’s rules. 

Rather, the rules and fines enforced by Nodel Parks are arbitrary decisions that the lawsuit claims are used to intimidate and coerce payment from residents in violation of state law. Residents informed Nodel Parks of the problems, but upper management refused to take any action. As a result, residents are forced to pay the illegal fines and are in danger of losing their homes when they cannot pay. 

The lawsuit comes at a time when New Mexico faces a severe housing crisis. The Housing and Urban Development Department found that the state topped the nation with a rise in homelessness with a 27% increase from 2018 to 2019. Homelessness in Albuquerque alone, rose by 15%.

Mobile homes are the single greatest source of affordable housing stock in the United States.

“Landlords must follow the law and treat residents with respect. There are hundreds of communities like Aztec Park across the state, and unfair policies and practices like these push hard working New Mexican families out of their communities and onto the streets,” said Maria Griego, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “When you own your home but rent the land it’s on, you are at particular risk of unfair and predatory practices by landlords. For this very reason, the New Mexico Legislature enacted the New Mexico Mobile Home Park Act to protect mobile home park residents.”

The state Mobile Home Park Act requires mobile home park owners to publish and enforce community rules only after soliciting comments from the community and posting responses. The law prohibits mobile home park owners from charging fines for violations of community rules and/or rental agreements. Instead, the law requires notice and an opportunity to rectify a violation. 

The families are asking the court to order defendants to stop:

  • Issuing fines for alleged or actual violations of rental agreements and/or the community rules and regulations;
  • Sending notices that threaten to evict or take further action against tenants if they don’t pay the fines; 
  • Rejecting rent from tenants if the total amount does not include any fines assessed against the tenant. 

The families are also asking the court to require the defendants to pay money damages for each instance in which the park management violated New Mexico law.

“I’m a homeowner just like any other and deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Martinez.  “We are not going to let them get away with tearing our communities apart and cheating us out of our homes.”

Attorneys on the lawsuit Chavez v. Nodel Parks, LLC, include Maria Griego, Lindsay Cutler, and Sovereign Hager from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and David Adams and Charles Parnall from Parnall and Adams Law.

The complaint can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/complaint-chavez-v-nodel-parks-llc-01-30-2020/

The exhibits can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/exhibits-chavez-v-nodel-parks-2020-01-30/