Court orders state to provide students the technology they need

SANTA FE—First Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Wilson ordered the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to the thousands of “at-risk” students who lack these necessary tools to access remote learning now and post pandemic. The ruling came during a hearing in the landmark Yazzie/Martinez education case on a Yazzie plaintiff motion addressing technology gaps among the state’s students.

At the hearing, Judge Wilson said, “The court ruled that defendants must comply with their duty to provide an adequate education and may not conserve financial resources at the expense of our constitution.” 

Wilson added, “Children who are lacking access to 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.”

“Lack of access has been catastrophic for far too many New Mexican families because of the state’s failure to address the technology gaps, especially for Native students and students living in rural areas,” said Preston Sanchez an attorney representing the Yazzie plaintiffs who argued the plaintiffs’ motion in court today. “Thousands of students are being denied their constitutionally required education sufficient to become college and career ready. Many are getting no education at all. The state has to be accountable to New Mexico’s students and families and make access to their education a priority.”

The court ordered the state to immediately:

  • Determine which at-risk students and their teachers do not have a dedicated digital device and immediately provide one or ensure that one is provided to each of these students and their teachers. 
  • Determine which at-risk students do not have access to high-speed internet that will allow them to work from home and immediately provide them with access to a high-speed service and when necessary, transportation to access it.
  • Provide school districts with funding for sufficient qualified IT staff to support and maintain digital devices, cellular hotspots, and community Wi-Fi locations, and other remote learning needs.

In 2018, in the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, the court ordered the state to provide a sufficient education to all public school students. The state was required to immediately direct resources to remedy the failures in its education system, because the court recognized students—especially Native students, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities—would be irreparably harmed if the state did not act swiftly.

The court noted that access to technology, including computers and related infrastructure, is essential to a sufficient education.

“This is a great day for New Mexico’s children,” said Melissa Candelaria, a senior attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents the Yazzie plaintiffs. “The judge’s ruling comes as a huge relief to so many families. Our children deserve a gold standard education but they cannot even participate in school without access to technology. Many students are not back at school and internet services are unavailable, especially in rural districts and districts serving predominantly Native American students. Even when students come back into the physical classroom, technology will continue to be a necessity.” 

According to the PED, nearly 50 percent of public school students will continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Many Native American students will continue remote learning per tribal public health orders to keep their communities safe.

An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lack broadband internet service. An estimated 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands in New Mexico do not have internet services at all.       

“There are far too many students in New Mexico who have not had access to education for an entire year,” said Alisa Diehl, a senior attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It is simply unacceptable that the state allow them to continue to fall even further behind. The state needs to take action immediately to make sure New Mexico’s students get the education they need and deserve.”

A video on the difficulties New Mexico students have accessing education because of technology can be found here: https://youtu.be/H-i7JW7xKLg

The motion can be found here: http://nmpovertylaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Yazzie-Tech-Motion-With-Exhibits-1-6-Final.2020-12-15.pdf

New exhibits from the Yazzie plaintiffs can be found here:
http://nmpovertylaw.org/yazzie-notice-of-additional-exhibits-with-exhibits/

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