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

New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee to hear how landmark education ruling could impact Native American students

SANTA FE—Today New Mexico’s Indian Affairs Committee will hear how the recent court decision on New Mexico’s education system could impact Native American students.

The landmark ruling on the consolidated lawsuit Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico found that the state has failed to provide students—and in particular economically disadvantaged, Native American, and English language learner students—with sufficient educational opportunities as required by the state constitution, the Indian Education Act, and other state laws. The lawsuit was brought by families and school districts represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Center staff will present the IAC with evidence that New Mexico’s students are just as capable as others across the country. Unfortunately, historical and current injustices and lack of funding for programs and curricula proven to work have led to disparate outcomes for our state’s children, especially for Native students.

Center staff will also present parts of an education transformation platform—agreed upon by over a hundred people from across the state, including educators, advocates, tribal leaders, and families—that greatly expands access to culturally and linguistically relevant curricula, enhances teacher supports, and promotes proven, research-based programs such as universal pre-K and K-5 Plus, lowers class size, and increases funding for the At-Risk Index.

WHAT:    
Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 28 at 10:15 a.m.

WHERE:
State Capitol, Room 322, 490 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501

WHO:
New Mexico Indian Affairs Committee
Preston Sanchez, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

Families & School Districts Seek Court Action Against State of New Mexico

Landmark Education Suit Claims Students’ Constitutional Rights Are Being Violated

SANTA FE, NM—A state-court trial will start Monday in a landmark education lawsuit that alleges New Mexico is violating the state constitutional rights of students placed at risk.

The trial will focus on legal claims filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) challenging the state’s failure to provide economically disadvantaged students, English-language learners (ELL), Native Americans, and students with disabilities with a “sufficient” education, as guaranteed by New Mexico’s constitution.

“The children of New Mexico are intelligent and capable, and have just as much potential as other students across the country. Unfortunately, the State has done little to invest in our children’s future,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s time that the State be held accountable to its constitutional duty to meet the educational needs of our students so that they may achieve not only academic success but success in other areas of their lives. Our kids’ and our state’s future are at stake.”

While the state’s constitution mandates a “sufficient” and “uniform” education for all students in New Mexico, a majority of public school students are unable to read, write, or do math at grade level. The consolidated lawsuit 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 ELL students.

“For far too long, New Mexico has left its most vulnerable students behind, disregarding its constitutional duty to fully support their education for all students,” said Marisa Bono,

MALDEF Southwest regional counsel. “Every New Mexico child should have the opportunity to graduate ready to pursue their dreams and meet their full potential—this lawsuit will ensure that opportunity.”

The Center’s lawsuit, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico, was filed in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are ELL, Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools.

“All I want is for my child to receive the best education possible, but my son and other Navajo students aren’t given the educational resources they need,” said Wilhelmina Yazzie, the named plaintiff in the Yazzie lawsuit whose son attends middle school in Gallup. “My son is a smart and dedicated student, but I worry that he’s not getting the academic support relevant to his native culture and language that will prepare him for college and help him succeed.”

MALDEF’s lawsuit, Martinez v. State of New Mexico, was filed in April 2014 on behalf of parents and public schools in Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. The suit alleges that the state’s inadequate funding for ELL and economically disadvantaged students, the lack of quality pre-K programs and other problems violate state constitution. State attorneys sought to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right.

“I simply want my children to have an equal opportunity to get a good education,” said

Roberto Sanchez, a plaintiff in the Martinez case whose children attend school in Santa Fe. “I see that my three children don’t have access to what they need to get ahead. Sometimes they have substitutes for a long time. We are simply asking that our children have a chance to get the education they need.”

The Center’s legal counsel on the case include Gail Evans, Preston Sanchez, Christopher Sanchez, and Lauren Winkler of the Center along with co-counsel Daniel Yohalem and Mark D. Fine. MALDEF’s lead counsel is Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel, and legal counsel include staff attorneys Ernest Herrera and Jack Salmon; E. Martin Estrada, Nick Sidney and Jessica Baril with Munger, Tolles & Olson; and David Garcia. The trial is expected to last nine weeks.

For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/.

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 The mission of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is to advance economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. The Center works with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty. Underlying its mission is a vision of New Mexico without poverty, where all peoples’ basic human rights are met. For media inquiries, please contact Maria Archuleta at (505) 255-2840 or Maria.A@nmpovertylaw.org.

 Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org. For media inquiries, please contact Sandra Hernandez at (213) 629-2512 ext. 129 or shernandez@maldef.org